Plastic that tracks your balance in real time?

Computers & Mobile Craft & Design
Plastic that tracks your balance in real time?

This “Live Checking Card” concept design from Yoon Jin-Young, Lee Jun-Kyo, Lee Young-Ho, and Kim Jin-Yi has been getting a lot of bandwidth around the tubes, lately. Ignoring the details of technical implementation, the notion itself is straightforward: Your check card shows you exactly how much money you have available to spend and tracks that amount, essentially in real time. This idea won the prestigious red dot design concept award for 2009.

It has also provided me with a nice MAKE-related excuse to go on a couple of badly-needed but (I hope) uncharacteristic rants. If you’re interested in the idea and would rather not patronize my soapbox, go ahead and click here to read all about it over at Yanko Design.

Otherwise…I have no problem with the thing itself. It’s conceptual, and I don’t really know if it actually can be made to work in the physical world at a reasonable cost or not. If so, great! I’d love to have one and I think most other folks would, too.

But here’s the rub: Even if it’s workable, the banks that issue debit and credit cards are not going to rush to adopt it, since it is manifestly in their interests for you not to be able to track your balances in real time, perhaps because they make a bundle charging overdraft fees and/or because they don’t want you to see all those decimal places when you pull out the card and, maybe, thereby be deterred from making a purchase. If it were in their interests to provide true real-time balance tracking, it would already be ubiquitous. It’s not like we don’t have the technology. On the other hand, perhaps if this concept can get off the ground, it might stir up enough consumer interest that eventually one bank or another will decide to cave, and the rest will have to follow suit to stay competitive. Again, let’s hope so. But I’m not holding my breath.

My second major gripe concerns the blatantly sexist hype surrounding the idea, which has more to do with my fellow bloggers than it does with the design or those responsible for it. I won’t name any names, but several of the recent blog posts I’ve read have billed the concept as a handy solution for the hardworking man who is tired of his wife or girlfriend who either claims to be, or actually is, perpetually unable to track her expenses and thereby runs up large bills he then has to pay. I’m not normally one to sound the “sexism” horn (in fact, I think this is the first time I have ever publicly done so) but, geez, this is 2010, people–no gender has a monopoly on being lousy with money.

OK. Thanks for listening to me sound off. Feel free to do likewise in the comments below.

22 thoughts on “Plastic that tracks your balance in real time?

  1. charliex says:

    I’m patronising your soapbox, so i’ll give you some in return :)

    Since you ranted, “but, geez, this is 2010, people–no gender has a monopoly on being lousy with money. ”

    Since this is 2010, and we’re all about the science, prove it. Genetic and sex based traits are prevalent. That doesn’t make it sexist ( if it’s true ).

    Being sexist is exactly that, its not seeing differences in each genders abilities, plus or minus.

    I’m not saying it is true, but I’m calling you out to back it up ;)

    Anyway even if you do know your balance, it doesn’t always help since things can be deferred for days. I’ve got a card that does what this concept does, only it’s on my iPhone, i just log into my chase account and see it there, same for paypal.

    You just have to keep track yourself and not rely on the bank, since they’ll do naff all about it anyway, even though its our money no one looks at it like that.

    Just as content is king on the web, commerce is king elsewhere, its all money orientated unless it helps someone make more money off the individual its just not going to change.

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      Well, strictly speaking, since my claim was that no gender has a “monopoly” on being lousy with money, the only thing I have to do to prove it is produce one example of a male who is lousy with money. I think I, personally, qualify. Quis erat demonstratum. =]

      Less snarkily, I’m sure there probably are gender-correlatable differences in money-managing habits; the question is to what extent we should pander to them. I say it’s in bad taste to do so, even if you’re in marketing and your job is to look at things strictly from a marketing perspective rather than a political or social justice perspective. Yet another reason I’m glad I’m not in marketing. =]

  2. Alan says:

    Banks don’t actually benefit from you spending your money. Sure, overdraft fees are a significant revenue source, but investment interest is the core of the bank’s business model, and that depends on you keeping as much money in your account as possible. A much more serious problem with a card like this is the security risk. Maybe I just spent too many years living in cities, but the idea of flashing a card with my current bank balance prominently displayed would make me very nervous. And I don’t even have anything close to the seven-digit figure shown here.

    As for the sexist comments by bloggers, if they really can’t trust their spouses with their money, they’ve got problems no card can solve. Charliex, I think the burden of proof actually goes the other way in this case – if someone is making a sexist claim these days, they’re the ones who need to back it up.

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      While I realize quoting USA Today instantly blemishes my credibility:

      “Banks are making it increasingly easy for you to overdraw your bank account. And the money they’re reaping from your mistakes has likely hit a record high.

      So says a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group. Its research shows that customers are paying $17.5 billion annually in fees for overdrawing their bank accounts, up 70% from the $10.3 billion they paid in 2004, the first time the center collected this data. The fees — assessed when banks pay for, rather than deny, an overdraft — exceed the $15.8 billion that consumers are overdrawing.”


      They also sometimes call them “courtesy loans,” and that article really puts the finger on what I was ranting about in the first place: The bank knows how much money is in my account, and if I’ve spent more than I have in there. Like a credit card company, they could just deny the charge. But they don’t, because they know they can whack me with an overdraft fee.

  3. Brandi Weed says:

    $722,080 + $320 = $722,400.

    1. Patrickiv says:

      I think that last comma in the amount acts as a decimal. I would expect them to simply swap the commas and decimals, as in Mexico and Europe, but I guess that’s just how they do it in Asia.

      1. volkemon says:

        an aside on the comma/decimal point…

        Years ago in Vermont, a paint supply store that had givin me an account without bank verification, etc.It changed owners, and the new owners were insisting on bank statements, etc. I assumed the air of an ‘injured patron’ and informed them that my account was ‘well into four digits, and if they didnt want my business…’ and they hastily backed down and things went on as usual.

        I didnt lie…it WAS well into four digits…I just happen to count the numbers to the right of the decimal point :)

  4. Carnes says:

    I don’t have a bank anymore for day to day and online spending. I use a Walmart Prepaid card that has my name on it. The card can never go negative and there are zero fees for me because i direct deposit enough money into it each month.

    There are the standard security features and options including texting you the account balance and so on.

    I just became fed up one day when i asked my bank if they could make it impossible for my checking account to go negative (i forget to top it up sometimes) and they said no.. but they offered to give me credit for when the balance does go negative (so it becomes debt and not a $25 charge).

    The only bad parts i’ve run into so far is it can be difficult to turn it all back into cash quickly. You have to use an ATM and they have daily limits (and a 1-2$ fee).

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      In fact a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading online about the bank overdraft fee scam recommend the prepaid card route. I think I’m gonna try to go that way myself.

  5. PaperSydney says:

    I think this is a wonderful Idea when you have the time to transact like you’re supposed to. This. You SYNC the card online by connecting it, and then go out shopping. every purchase subtracts from the total, and you’ll have an accurate balance, BUT.. I barter, and some places I goto only use Cold hard Currency. I would love to move to something like this, but I think the comments above state for the obvious. It’s not going to have some Cell link to your account. it’s going to be mis-aligned.

    Don’t forget to think about the wonderful side of it though.

  6. Donald Haas says:

    I would like to see this product as well. It would be simple to put a button/switch on it that will only display the balance when pressed so it wouldn’t be like you’re flashing your balance around whenever you use it.
    If it’s not effective for bank balances and debit cards, it would work well for a gift card that has a set amount “on” it.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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