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Imagine never missing a bill payment. Imagine only having to remember one online password. That’s the pitch from a new online service called Manilla. It's free, and automatically organizes all of your bills.
Sounds pretty good, right? But a lot of people aren’t even close to using a bill paying app. Many still use paper checks.
It’s been 13 years since online bill pay allowed folks to go paperless and automatic. But today, only 50 percent of U.S. consumers pay bills online. Why?
"The decision a person makes to adopt a new technology is based on two key factors," says Fred Davis, a professor of Information Systems at the University of Arkansas. "Number one, their perception of whether the technology is useful. And secondly, it should be it should also be easy to use."
Davis studies the ways consumers adopt new technology habits. He says personal finance habits take longer to change than the way you might switch from one smartphone to another. That’s because money is so important to us.
As Davis puts it, "Sometimes holding onto the old way of doing things is quite rational."
He says it’s not just stubbornness and emotion that keeps people from changing.
"For them to use the electronic statement, maybe it's going to be more of a hassle and more effort because now I have to log in and remember my password. So there is a convenience factor," he says.
Now banks and other services would love to see consumers automate and ditch paper altogether. In fact, that’s one way free financial apps make a profit. Every time someone signs up and goes paperless, Manilla gets money from your cell phone company, your bank, or cable service. In the U.S., banks spend a combined $1.5 billion supporting paper check payments every year.
Paul McAdam, at Fidelity Information Services, says a few years back, the British government tried to set a deadline for elimination of paper checks.
But, McAdam notes, "They had to back off and completely scrap those plans due to public outcry, and they said that the U.K. naming system would keep checks as long as customers needed them. I think if a similar thing we're tempted in the U.S., we'd see the same reaction."
Folks here in the U.S. probably don’t need prodding. We’re writing fewer and fewer checks every year, and at that rate, they could naturally disappear by the year 2026. Rest assured, we the consumers will set the timeline.
Three men are out campaigning in the center of Berlin and they are causing a bit of a stir. All three are clad from head to toe in bright blue leotards.
They run around handing out leaflets and, with their features flattened and obscured by the blue Spandex, the men urge the slightly alarmed passersby to: “Vote for Alternative for Germany!”
“I look a bit like a blue Spiderman,” concedes one of the campaigners, Freidrich Hilse. “But we see ourselves as superheroes. We are trying to show the voters that we are different!”
Germany’s newest political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), formed barely six months ago. The party represents a kind of rebellion by the economics profession. Among its members it counts almost 300 university professors of economics. And it is breaking a taboo of German politics by calling for an end to the euro in its current form.
“We would like to have most of the southern countries leave the eurozone,” says another blue body-stockinged crusader, Christian Schmidt. He’s a founding member of the AfD and -- of course -- an economist. “We would like to see Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Portugal and possibly even France quit the euro.”
“It is better to face up to what doesn’t really work in economic terms today,” says Schmidt. “Because the final bill will be much higher, the longer you wait.”
The AfD believes that the euro is unsustainable in its present form because there is too big a divergence between the economies of northern member states -- like Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland and their southern partners. And the North will constantly be required to bail out the South.
However, the AfD has had trouble getting this message across and opinion surveys suggest that it may not enough votes to win any seats in the German parliament. Here’s the problem for the anti-euro party: So far, Germany has done very nicely out of the single currency.
The euro is weaker than the old German currency -- the deutsche mark -- and that has made German exports cheaper on the world market.
And that has helped keep unemployment relatively low.
"No one is actually feeling the crisis here. They see it on the news. They read in the newspapers: something is going on," says Nora Hesse of the Open Europe think tank. "But they just don’t feel it in their everyday life. They have their jobs. Life is good in Germany."
And another thing: The cost of the eurozone crisis hasn’t hit home. Germany has lent hundreds of billions to southern Europe but so far, it hasn’t lost a single cent of that money. Yet.
Christian Schmidt claims that after this election, it’ll be a different story.
Greece will need another bailout and will have to write off some of the billions it has borrowed. That will not go down well with German taxpayers.
“Seventy-seven percent of the German public no longer wishes to send one more euro to Greece,” says Schmidt. “And once the haircut will be done -- and it’s inevitable -- then definitely taxes will have to go up and the German public feels it in their pocketbook.”
That will be the moment, he says, when the AfD won’t need Spiderman suits anymore to grab the public’s attention.
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