Friday, February 23, 2007

Who cut the corner off?

The Royal Bank of Scotland has something they call the ‘mint’ card – it’s basically a form of credit card. I’ve checked out their site and can’t quite see why they’ve called it a mint card, but maybe I’ve missed something. (You’d think it had something to do with the Royal Mint). There are two odd things about the mint card: one is that it’s the first credit card to have a corner cut off it. Okay, you say, that’s interesting. (Yes, I thought so too!) This certainly makes it stand out a bit from the rest, but to me a far more interesting thing is that they’re offering a no interest deal up till December 2007 if you transfer your balance from another credit card. That’s pretty good. (There’s no interest, but there is a 2.9% charge on the balance, which is a little odd - number two ‘odd’ in fact).
The third odd, then, is that amongst their question and answers on the site (this in particular is related to the mint gift card – more about that in a minute) we have the question:
Why is there no chip on a MINT Gift Card? And the answer, which I find odd, is:
There is no need for a chip or pin to use a MINT Gift Card. Instead, the Card is neatly equipped with a magnetic strip, which means purchases will always need to be signed for.
‘Neatly equipped with a magnetic strip?’ But credit card producers have been working against this very form of identification for ages, and here in New Zealand, most people now use a pin as identification with credit cards. It’s almost invariably a lot safer than a signature. Oh, dear, Great Britain continues to remain behind the times when it comes to technology.
It always used to amaze me when US students or young travellers came into my former shop that they would proffer for payment a credit card without any signature at all on it! As far as I was aware, in NZ it’s illegal to offer a card with no signature, quite apart from the obvious possibility that the person proffering the card may not be it’s legal owner. They would happily tell me that they never signed the card in case it got stolen, which was a piece of illogic I could never get my head around, and then they would show me a student ID from back home, which was okay, but still begged the question of why their credit card wasn’t signed.
Back to the mint card. The mint gift card is a kind of credit card with cash already on it; the only thing is that when you’ve spent all the money on it, there ain’t no more. No credit limit you can then hook into. Aunty Sally sends you a mint card with £50 on it, and you gleefully go out and buy that new toy you’ve had your eye on, assuming that when you spend rather more than the £50, the credit will somehow link into Aunty Sally’s account, and she’ll pay the bill. No such luck. Once that card has run out of cash, you pay the bill.
The better deal here, I think, is the ‘no interest’ one. If I were in Scotland, which I am not, I might even take it up myself. (It’s a better deal than ANZ were offering some while ago, which I’ve also written about.)

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