This year’s Oppikoppi, the South African music festival held in rural Limpopo, saw the introduction of a new cashless “tap ‘n go” payment system from Standard Bank.
The implementation of the system sought to simplify payments and shorten queues whilst reducing some the security risks associated with cash.
Upon arrival at the event festival-goers were issued with an “Oppikoppi card,” a Near Field Communication (NFC) based smart-card onto which they could load money.
Loading stations at the event were then used to load money onto the card using cash, debit or credit card or mimoney.
The NFC based system, which is said to be the first of its kind to be implemented in South Africa, differs from the conventional debit/credit card based system in that it can be used offline; there is therefore no need for transactions to be pre-approved on a server.
Although a card was used at Oppikoppi, NFC chips can be used in many different forms with one of the most popular being integration into mobile phones.
Vendors at the festival were furnished with NFC chip readers which allowed users to ‘tap’ their cards to make payments.
If the required funds were available the amount would be deducted from the card after which a receipt, displaying the current balance on the card, was printed and given to the user.
The entire transaction process was exceptionally fast and, provided the vendor deducted the correct amount and you had money on your card, a painless experience.
As with any new system there were some logistical and technical issues. Many users complained about the fact that vendors could not reverse a transaction when a mistake was made while others complained about the queues at the loading stations.
Technical issues with automated terminal’s card reading devices were also experienced. Another unfortunate occurrence was the swapping of cards by dishonest bar staff who, before handing a card back to a user, would swap cards with money on them for blank ones.
Asked whether the inability for vendors to reverse transactions was a limitation on the system, Herman Singh, CEO of Beyond Payments, responded that “while the system is indeed capable of reversing transactions, this facility was not offered at the request of the organisers.”
It is not known why the organisers requested this but the result was that, in the event that a mistake was made, vendors were required to settle the difference in cash or accompany the customer to a banking station to resolve the issue.
As far as queues were concerned Singh replied that: “Queues were substantially shorter than in previous years with ATM’s. Queues were never longer than 30 minutes compared to the 2 to 3 hours of previous years”.
It is worth noting though that the ATM queues from previous years only affected those who didn’t have cash on them.
Technical issues with some of the automated terminals resulted in four of the eleven being removed due to difficulties with the card readers.
Singh said that the difficulties were caused, they believe, by dust on site and that the problem can be overcome by using hardware upgraded with card reader brushers and vacuums.
Card swapping occurred mostly at bars where users had to hand their cards to bar staff to ‘tap’ on the readers which were, often, placed out of reach from the users.
This is not how the system was originally supposed to be used as users were encouraged to keep their cards in their hands when making payment.
The constant exchanges of cards between users and staff created opportunities for dishonest staff members to take advantage of festival-goers (who were quite vulnerable in the first place given the likelihood of inebriation).
To prevent this from happening in the future, Singh said that they will be looking into more secure ways, possibly in the form of a secure bracelet, for users to keep their NFC tags with them.
Overall reception from festival-goers was mixed; those who understood the concept and the technology behind it were impressed while others seemed to see it as a needless hassle.
Some vendors obliged to the customers’ requests and accepted cash in lieu of an NFC card but seemed to much prefer the NFC system over cash.
In a press statement from Hilltop Live, the event organisers, it was acknowledged that there were still teething problems with the current system but it was also noted that it has been a massive step forward for all parties involved.
They went on to say that “… with some tweaks, this sort of system will form the basis of many more events and expos in future.”
NFC technology certainly has been drawing a lot attention this year and with heavy-weights like Google, Microsoft and Intel supporting the technology it is only a matter of time before we start seeing widespread implementations.
Standard Bank has been the first to take the leap in South Africa and, in many ways, were brave to take on an event like Oppikoppi.
Although not all festival-goers were happy with the system and granted there were teething issues, the implementation may have paved the way forward for NFC in South Africa.