In May 1997 a group of Swedish musicians managed to convince the entire world that life in plastic is fantastic. It is still a mystery how they managed to gain such traction with radio listeners worldwide.

Times have changed, though, and this month marks the beginning of V.me, a new method of payment which, in the long run, aims to do away with all sorts of plastic cards taking up space in our wallets.

Is this going to be a smooth transition? Only time will tell. For now, check out how companies are vying for control over digital cash: War of the virtual wallets.



  • pump out – produce or emit something in large quantities
  • mind-boggling – overwhelming, startling
  • throw in – include something
  • oversee – supervise
  • narrow the gap – diminish the differences
  • shake-out – consolidation of a sector in which businesses are eliminated or acquired by competition
  • savvy – shrewdness, practical knowledge
  • from scratch – anew, from the very beginning
  • new-fangled – objectionably new
  • trade-off – compromise


Think about it 

Based on the text answer the following questions. Leave your answers in the comments below!

  • What alternative to traditional plastic cards is being introduced?
  • What makes the global payments business an attractive target for companies?
  • What steps have card networks taken to stay on top of new technologies?
  • What do big retailers do to convince customers to use their own digital wallets?
  • Would you readily part with your plastic card if you had an alternative? Why?


Practice makes perfect

Read the paragraphs below and complete the sentences which come underneath to show that you have understood the text. In your answers use the word(s) above the sentences without changing their form. There is no limit on the number of words you can use.


ANOTHER milestone on the journey towards digital cash was passed on November 13th. That date marked the emergence from beta-testing in America of V.me, a “digital wallet” that holds multiple payment cards in a virtual repository. Instead of providing their personal details and card numbers to pay for stuff online, customers just enter a username and a password. The service is provided by Visa, a giant card-payment network whose headquarters is in the heart of Silicon Valley, close to a host of technology firms which would love to get their hands on a chunk of the global payments business.



1. Thanks to V.me _________________________________________ to do online shopping.



2. Global payments business _______________________________________ numerous technology firms.



But even if plastic cards eventually go the way of vinyl records, card networks should still prosper because they too are investing heavily in new technology and have several built-in advantages. Visa is betting its member banks can help it to narrow the gap with rivals like PayPal, for instance, which is part of eBay and has grown to 117m active users thanks in part to its use on the auction site. Over 50 financial institutions are supporting the launch of V.me, which accepts non-Visa cards in its wallet, too. MasterCard and others are also touting digital wallets, some of which can hold digital coupons and tickets as well as card details.



1. Even if __________________________________, card networks_________________________________.



2. Digital wallets_____________________________________ only one operator’s cards.



The biggest prize of all lies in emerging markets, where a lack of financial infrastructure is hastening the rise of phone-based payments systems such as M-Pesa, which serves Kenya and several other markets. Visa has snapped up Fundamo, which specialises in payment services for the unbanked and underbanked in emerging markets; MasterCard has set up a joint venture called Wanda with Telefónica, a Spanish telecoms firm, which aims to boost mobile payments across Latin America. The payments world is changing fast but the card firms are not about to let rivals swipe their business.



1. The lack of financial infrastructure _________________________ in emerging markets.



2. The card firms  ________________________________  ground to competition.


Answer key:

A: 1. it will be enough to enter a username and a password 2. has gained traction with

B: 1. plastic cards become obsolete, will be largely unaffected 2. are not limited to

C: 1. is propelling phone-based payments systems 2. are not likely to give


Explore it more