If you can process an offline payment, do I care what is wrong with your phone? The Result, Vol 1 Issue 3

This week has been a bit of an interesting week for the great cities of the world and their power supplies. Jakarta, Pretoria and Washington all suffered widespread blackouts and resultant telecommunications and ATM failures, with the same complaint – nobody uses cash!

Jakarta’s woes were triggered by a cascading fault following the failure of a gas-powered turbine at a power plant. Various sources have quoted up to 40 million people being affected as well as widespread reports of loss of cell phone coverage and ATM services {Straights Times and SMH

Across in Pretoria, power was cut for an extended period following an outage in a local substation { RekordEast and IOL}

Meanwhile in Washington D.C., a hot weekend became a power free one as 39,000 customers lost power for around 12 hours, again a substation problem {Washington Post}

In Australia however, our news was dominated by proceedings in the Federal Court against wind farm operators for their compliance with performance standards during the storms that swept across South Australia on the afternoon of September 28, 2016 {AFN, SMH and others}. While I don’t particularly want to start a debate regarding the relative merits of renewable energy and fossil fuels, none of the cities that suffered large scale outages this week are well known for their renewable energy. All failures occurred in traditional infrastructure and none in extreme weather conditions.

From all these reports, one quote from the Washington Post particularly spoke to me.

“Most customers left Frugalista, a thrift store in Mount Pleasant, because the store couldn’t take credit card payments. “These days, nobody’s carrying cash,” manager Anna Cajina said”

This reminded me to resume my reading of as many of the available guides for merchants as supplied by banks with their EFTPOS machines. After the last EFTPOS crisis here in Australia, I was fascinated to try to work out who took the lead in redundancy services in the event of a loss of banking facilities.  My search started by looking to see if banks still offer the old-fashioned imprint devices and paper transaction slips. As it happens, they do although at an undefined cost.

I then went into the guts of the matter, what does the machine tell you and can you process a transaction if the only thing that is missing is a phone signal. Mentally, I knew it had to work, otherwise how do really remote locations survive?

Every bank document I read (including Westpac, Commonwealth, ANZ and NAB), included a complete section on processing payments without an available telephone line, the procedure and the banks terms to honour the value. I gave up after a while because they almost all had the same basic instructions.

So why doesn’t it work? I have a two part theory:

  • Firstly, no one ever reads the full instruction manual, and no one would ever demonstrate processing an off-line payment,
  • Secondly, none of the “quick guides” included a reference to off-line processing.

Using most quick guides, the closest you get to solving the problem appears to be the step “call the bank help-desk” and that’s the scenario that every story I read included.

So next time you are stuck trying to pay when the network goes down:

  • Helpfully suggest they read the instruction manual, probably helpfully titled “off-line processing or failure to connect to network”,
  • Then call your bank and ask them to change the quick reference guide.

Have a great week


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