Friday, 28 February 2014

RIP Laser card

At midnight tonight, the Laser card payment system will be shut down, after 18 years in service. I have to say it seemed like Ireland took forever to introduce the Visa or Mastercard debit card. 

But what was this card all about?

The laser card, a pure Irish invention was created in 1996. It was basically working like a Visa or Mastercard debit, but you couldn't pay online or even take money out in other countries (at least for the first 10 years...) The only great thing about it was cashback. No ATM around ? Just buy something in the shop and ask for cash back. Whoever had that idea was a genius.
I still have a bank account in France and I was given a Mastercard when I was 18. No questions asked. Before that, I had an ATM card since I was 12. Yes, I know it wasn't a great move from the bank and I'm surprised my parents never confiscated my card, but apparently the bank rolled that scheme out to teach young people how to manage their money. It didn't really work for me and my birthday/communion/Christmas money was gone within a few months, buying sweets and girly magazines.

When I came to Ireland, the first I did was open a bank account. Innocently, I asked for a credit card, and the lady at the counter looked at me like if I had two heads. The customer next to me, who looked shocked as well, told me I shouldn't ask for that and that I could get one eventually, but only if I was a " good customer". You see, the only word I knew was "credit card", but really, I was thinking of a debit card... I just didn't know that a Mastercard here was a real "credit card" that you had to pay back every month with interests. The lady started to talk in a very patronising way:

" Oh No, I can't give you a credit card. We'll have to start with an ATM card"
" OK, what's that exactly ? Can I pay with it?"
" No, but you can take money from the ATM"
" So are you telling me I can only pay cash???"
" Yes, for the moment, but if your accounts are fine, you'll be able to get a Laser card within 6 months"
" A Laser card ?"

I felt like I was back in the stone age. I'm glad I kept my French account and Mastercard debit. It proved very useful over the years...

In France we also use cheques A LOT. You can pay virtually anything by cheque: your shopping, petrol, rent, bills etc.  After my misadventure with the "credit/debit card", I didn't dare asking for a cheque book, but one of my French friend did. And it didn't really work as expected.

As soon as she received her cheque book, we went shopping to Penneys.  She took it out and before she even started to write anything, she was told she needed the "guarantee card" for the cheque, and that the bank had to provide it. She went back to the bank and they basically refused to give her the card (I still don't know why). 

" So I have a cheque book, but I can't pay anything by cheque? "
"  No, but you can write cheques to people"
 "Yeah, right... Because you think I go around writing cheques to people..."

Needless to say the chequebook was handed back to the bank straight away.

I always took for granted a mean of payment, would it be card or cheque, because that's what I was brought up with. I didn't think it would be different in Ireland. But like everything else, I had to adapt, and now, when I go to France , I  nearly want to ask for cashback!