Stand back Apple Pay: SnapScan, A new app developed in South Africa makes spending money with your phone as easy as taking a photo.
It’s been so long since 30-year-old Cape Town entrepreneur Kobus Ehlers last used his wallet that he’s not even sure where it is. “My car maybe?” he says as he reflexively scans the cheerfully decorated offices of his startup,SnapScan. When it’s pointed out that leaving a wallet in a car in a city infamous for break-ins and carjackings may not be a good idea, he shrugs. He probably doesn’t even have the equivalent of five dollars in it, he says. “I never use cash. Credit cards are over. There are much better ways to pay for things.”
As the co-founder of one of South Africa’s most successful electronic payments apps, Ehlers is of course expected to use his own product. But the real reason he isn’t worried about his wallet is because Cape Town is a city seduced by the idea of cashless and cardless transactions, in no small part because of his company’s success.
“You can literally wake up in the morning, buy a cup of coffee, go to your dentist, have lunch, pay your bills, take a taxi, go out for dinner, and donate to your favorite cause without using cash or a card,” says Ehlers. “And in none of that is there any risk of your card details getting stolen, or you getting mugged for your cash.”
For all the talk of a new cashless society ushered in by the likes of Apple Pay in the United States, it’s going to be a while before a swipe of a phone will buy a meal in most cities. But in Cape Town, it’s already happening. I’ve used my phone to pay for parking, cover a medical bill, order take out, buy groceries at my local farmers market and give money to the homeless woman selling the South African version of Street News at the traffic light. Churchgoers use their phones for donations. My facialist just informed me that I could pay for Botox treatments with SnapScan. I’ll take that as her endorsement of an increasingly popular payment service, and not a hint.