Can Coin Revolutionize Your Wallet?

by Jason Unger

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I’ve got a lot of bank accounts. They all have different purposes, so I’m not consolidating them anytime soon, but I have a lot of them.

Between my credit union, my regular bank, my online savings bank, my business bank, my HSA account, and more, that means a lot of cards in my wallet. It may not actually be as bad as George Costanza’s wallet, but I carry a lot of cards.

So I was intrigued when I saw the first promotion for Coin, the electronic card that promises to hold up to 8 of your credit, debit, membership, loyalty and gift cards. It sounds like a really, really good way to shrink down your wallet and make it easier to manage your banking cards.

Here’s how it works:

The process of adding card information to the mobile app is very simple. You start by photographing and then swiping your cards through a small device we provide you with. Additionally, we will send a payment to your account associated with the card to verify your ownership of the account. Our mobile app will allow you to add, manage, and sync the cards via Bluetooth onto your Coin.

The Coin screen will display a card brand indicator (American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa), last 4 digits of your card number, and the card expiration date. The back of the Coin will have your name imprinted beside the tamper-evident signature panel. Pictures of the front and back of the card will be stored in the Coin mobile app.

Since it’s the size of one card, the obvious appeal is that, rather than carry eight cards, you’re only carrying one.

There’s a problem, however. Coin was supposed to launch this past summer, and has been taking pre-orders (and people’s money) since the end of 2013. But it didn’t launch — and the company really screwed up how it handled the folks who had already paid $55 for the devices (normal cost is $100). From CNet:

“We apologize for our lack of transparency and clarity in our communications to you,” wrote Coin CEO Kanishk Parashar in a post on the company’s website, accessible only with a password emailed to preorder customers. “You, as our valuable backers, should have been the first to know about all product updates. We honestly thought we could make our timeline. We were overly optimistic.”

In place of a full launch, Coin planned to roll out a nationwide beta program in which 10,000 preorder customers could opt-in to use a prototype that worked at only 85 percent of US card terminals. When the finished product begins shipping next spring, Coin said it would charge those customers $30 to upgrade.

Needless to say, the people who already paid for the device and were expecting to have a product in hand weren’t happy that they’d need to pay an additional $30 to get a fully working version. Coin has reversed its stance on the $30 fee, so folks who pre-ordered won’t pay anything else.

Assuming the product does come out, there’a few potential downsides.

One: once the battery on the Coin dies, it can’t be re-charged. The company says that, because of the size of the card and the battery they can fit into it, you simply need to buy another one. That’s not good for long-term usage.

Two: you need your phone nearby to keep it running. If your phone isn’t nearby, Coin can become useless.

I’m curious to how Coin is received when (if?) it comes to market. The idea is great — and I think it could definitely be a game-changer — but like with so many other payment tools (phones, dongles, etc.), change is difficult. Will every business know how to use Coin? You hope so. Will Coin be able to improve upon the prototype that only works with 85% of US card terminals? It better.

What do you think? Leave a note in a comment below.

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