How Will History Remember mPayments?

Pundits have long been ringing the death bells for paper currency, but on July 12 these tolls started ringing a little louder.

A study released by eMarketer predicted that mCommerce would total $58 billion by 2017—an increase from the projected $1 billion by this year’s end.

Mobile payments are more than a decade old, although many believe this sophisticated and effortless payment tool may represent the final link in the payments puzzle, an innovation that won’t be replaced. However, a closer look at history indicates this is not likely to be the case.

Intuit, the California-based provider of business and financial management solutions, recently released a colorful infographic titled, “Cowries, Cash & Credit: How Humans Have Paid for Things Throughout History.”  The infographic traces the evolution of commerce from the bartering system used in prehistoric times to the mobile payments consumers make with cellphones, tablets and laptops today.

In this Data Point, we’ll look back at the ways humans have transacted over the centuries, and show just how far we’ve advanced in how we conduct transactions. 

Do You Have Change For This Cow?: The B.C. Era

The Intuit infographic begins by unveiling what it deemed “the oldest form of currency” animals. From 9,000 BC to 6,000 BC, it said camels, sheep and cows were commonly used in trading. Sound silly? Recent news headlines, such as those in Zimbabwe’s vibrant cattle banking industry, suggest consumers haven’t strayed too far from this system.

Slowly, payments evolved. The Shekel, a form of grain used as currency, was introduced in 3,000 B.C. Next to come into circulation was shell money, crude metal coins and precious metal coins. Finally, leather money was introduced in 118 B.C.

You Want Me To Trade For Paper?: Cash Emerges In The A.D. Era

It wasn’t until A.D. 806 when paper banknotes first appeared in China. Cash would come-and-go during the coming centuries, disappearing into the dark ages before reemerging more powerful than ever.

While many consumers are still in love with cash, a closer look at history reveals they have always had an on-again, off-again relationship with paper money. During this era, Intuit indicates cash faced competition from alternatives such as gold and wampum. At one time, wampum was even an accepted and legal tender in the United States.

A World Of Options: The 20th Century To Today

Cash remained the dominant player in the payments world—until new innovations that challenged its value would upend the payments world once again. The infographic provides an interesting look at the facts surrounding these developments. For example, you may be surprised to learn that gold-backed dollar is an idea that is less than 100 years old, and that the first online payment was made to buy pizza.

For more interesting insights into the history of payments, view the infographic below.


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Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. In the November 2019 AML/KYC Report, Zillow’s Justin Farris tells PYMNTS how the platform incorporates stringent authentication without making the onboarding and buying experiences too complex.

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