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As paper money heads to the great bank vault in the sky, IQ speaks to the companies making concert payments simpler, smarter and safer, in an increasingly cashless world
By Jon Chapple on 11 Feb 2019
Since bursting onto the festival circuit around five years ago, the popularity of cashless payment technology has grown exponentially, with cashless solutions – usually delivered via an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip attached to a wristband or festival pass – now a familiar sight at some of the world’s most popular events.
After a bumpy start (including high-profile failures at events such as Download and Hurricane Festival), cashless tech has shed its growing pains and is now common across much of mainland Europe. It’s also fast making inroads into largely cashless-resistant markets such as the UK and US, where event promoters, like their continental cousins, are drawn to its sales uplift potential – 15-30%, according to Payzone – and contactless-native audiences to its security and ease of use.
A French revolution
According to Steve Jenner, UK business development director for Belgium-based PlayPass, Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to cashless payment take-up – although it is catching up fast. “Outside the UK, it is now uncommon for an event not to use RFID for payments – to the extent that there is very little noise generated by it, with no debate needed beforehand and no audience fuss after,” he explains. “The established systems now work offline, avoiding the well-publicised issues that affected some of the earlier adopters, like Download in the UK and Hurricane in Germany, both in 2015.
“The UK – while later to the party than most other markets – is now catching up rapidly, following three highly successful summers of cashless festival implementations. PlayPass has doubled its overall worldwide growth in 2018, but we have tripled the number of UK events we work with, and are on course to do at least the same in 2019.”
“On the whole, the UK market has not yet switched to cashless,” agrees Pierre-Henri Deballon, co-founder and CEO of Dijon-based Weezevent, which provides cashless solutions for some of the biggest events in France. Referencing Download 2015 – whose cashless-only set-up was criticised by many festivalgoers after it failed on the first day, leading to the reinstatement of cash payments the following year – Deballon compares barriers to adoption in the UK and other largely non-cashless markets to flying: “It’s similar to aviation,” he says. “It’s the safest way to travel but if one aircraft fails then people become scared of flying.”
“The UK – while later to the party than most other markets – is now catching up rapidly, following three highly successful summers of cashless festival implementations”
Weezevent’s system – which, like PlayPass’s, works offline, avoiding the risk posed by an unstable Internet connection – is used by the majority of France’s cashless festivals, says Deballon, which account for nearly three quarters of the French market. “Of the 100 biggest festivals, 70% of them are cashless,” he says, “and we’re doing 95% of them.”
Weezevent was founded in 2008 by Deballon, Sébastien Tonglet and Yann Pagès, and went cashless with its first major client, France’s biggest festival, les Vieilles Charrues, in 2015. “All the other festivals looked at what they were doing, saw how successful it was and decided to switch,” Deballon explains. “Maybe if Download  had succeeded, it would have been the same in the UK market.”
Reshad Hossenally, founder and managing director of UK- based Event Genius, says the market for cashless technology “is always rising. As a relatively new technology, when compared with the likes of online ticketing and traditional access control, there is a big pool of events and festivals that have the potential to make the switch to cashless and benefit as a result.
“Between 2017 and 2018, we have doubled the number of events we have serviced,” he continues, “with lots more events for the winter booked in on top of this.
“As the technology becomes more widely adopted, it is also opening up a broader range of industries. We’ve used our technology at music festivals; food and drink festivals; winter and Christmas carnival events; large-scale clubbing and warehouse events and more, and are targeting even more sectors for 2019.”
“Like all technologies, cashless technology develops at a mile a minute, and the technology used back in 2015 is well and truly a thing of the past”
Hossenally says RFID payment technology has come on in leaps and bounds since the dark days of 2015 – something the company is keen to make clear to event organisers. “What we always try to communicate is that, like all technologies, cashless technology develops at a mile a minute,” he explains, “and the technology used back in 2015 is well and truly a thing of the past. Today the tech is far more advanced, reliable and robust.
“Major failures are often related to networking issues. At Event Genius, we have developed our solution, Event Genius Pay, to be able to run completely offline, mitigating any possibility of downtime.”
It’s easy to see why downtime is such a major concern for cashless events: for festivals, especially – where the trading ‘year’ is compressed into just two or three days – any outage could be catastrophic. “If the system fails, it would have many impacts,” says Deballon. “We service over 200 festivals, and often have maybe 10-20 on any one weekend, and we’ve never had the organiser not being able to sell – if a festival can’t process payments, that’s like a normal business being closed for weeks…”
When it works, however – and it’s worth noting there have been no major festival RFID failures for nearly four years – cashless payment technology benefits event organisers and punters alike. The chief advantages of going cashless, says Jason Thomas, global CEO of Tappit, whose clients include Bestival and Creamfields Hong Kong, as well as several major sporting venues, “can all be summed up in three main points: Firstly, it improves the fan experience. Secondly, it increases revenues through speeding up transactions and significantly reducing fraud. And thirdly, it gives event organisers valuable data and insights.”
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