Touch-to-pay: the wearable killer app

My wallet is perhaps a little behind the times. My debit cards do not have touch-to-pay, I have a credit card with that feature, but it got rejected a couple of times and I honestly didn’t investigate why, I simply lost faith in using that method to pay.
Enter – Barclays bPay band.

I’m not sure were I heard of this now, but I did and I signed up. Barclays will send you one for free.

What is it?
Well, I describe it as sort of like an Oyster card, in so far as you manage it online, and use whatever card you like to send it money and configure ‘auto-top up’ when it drops below certain thresholds. Unlike Oyster you can use it anywhere that tap-to-pay is accepted, not just on the london underground etc. (it can be used there as well, so it is a complete replacement for oyster in that sense)

Also unlike oyster, and indeed unlike any touch-to-pay debit card. The ‘card’ here is very small, less than 1/4 the size of a debit card, and comes in a ‘band’ for you to wear on your wrist.
The band is just rubber, the magic is a card which can easily be extracted…more on that later.

For those unaware – touch-to-pay is a system that lets you pay for transactions of 20 pounds or less. So tube fares, coffee, lunch etc.

The result of this is that in places that accept touch-to-pay you can simply reach your arm out and tap the band to the reader and you’re done. This is not just faster and easier than debit cards, it is faster and easier than cash. I don’t have to get my wallet out, fumble with cards/cash change receipts and whatever I’m buying. I can just use my hands to take the goods. (I mostly decline receipts if I can for these kinds of low value purchases)

I’m aware that Apple is launching its Apple Watch, and one of the features of this is the ability to use it as the thing that you touch to reader when paying via their equivalent system. In this I think they’ve also realised this is one of the killer features that can be put on your wrist. Though personally I think the bPay band is better since it is focussed on just that, and was free…

The bPay band has 2 major flaws.

1) As yet not everywhere accepts touch-to-pay. It is very common in London, but in my home town I’ve only found 2 retailers that accept it. And of course if you can’t rely on it being taken then it diminishes the value a little. Hopefully this will become less of a problem over time.

2) the rubber band it comes in is cheap and uncomfortable.

For the first week that I had it, I just kept it in my pocket, and looped it over my fingers when I was preparing to pay. At this point it was really no different to a touch-to-pay card etc. There was the step of ‘preparing’ that I needed to take, just because it was not something I would just wear.

Over the weekend I fixed that issue.
I ordered a leather ‘cuff’ from Etsy, it is just a simple thick leather strap with some poppers so you can secure it around your wrist. Its the sort of thing that I’m fairly happy to just wear. it is comfortable and doesn’t look particularly out of place. I’m sure it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the basic principle of customisation can be applied to anything that you are happy to wear on your wrist.


I then hacked a flap in the back of the leather strap, I made a slightly messy job of it. I bought two so I may try a different approach on the other.


Having cut a flap, I glued the edges back down and left myself with a small pocket in the edge of the strap that just snugly fits the card from the bPay Band.


Now I can wear this as a matter of course, and not really think about it until I need to pay for something.

My first use was in a W.H.Smiths, which is one of the two places in my town that accept touch-to-pay, the cashier was taken by surprise when I just pressed my wrist against the reader and paid. It was the first time she’d seen anything like it. I suspect it will not be the last, as I feel the convenience of being able to pay this way will catch on.