The secret handshake of the buyer

11 October 2012
height="100" />As the business world has developed, the significance of the handshake in relation to contracts has faded. It used to seal the deal beyond all question. But today, even when a deal is agreed and hands are shook, there are still i's to dot and t’s to cross. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing - the modern world would not be better off if rail franchises were agreed by a handshake, although in view of recent events it might not be that much worse off. But it is a shame that this historic business ritual has lost some of its importance.

Fortunately though, it might gain some of it back in the not too distant future. In his contribution to Pay Your Way 2025 by the Payments Council, Ian Pearson, lead futurologist at Futurizon, has suggested due to technological advances that handshakes could be used as the physical prompt to transfer money. He cites an MIT study from the 1990s that showed data, equivalent to around 100 pages of text, can be transmitted electronically through the skin. With a bit of work, this approach could be developed to make handshakes the equivalent of hitting pay on an online shop.

And as he explained, the idea could sit quite well with people as a method of payment: “Handshakes are a well-established social ritual that has always been used to express trust or friendship, so using them as part of payment transactions would feel very natural.” Obviously security measures would need to be put in place. If money transferred every time, the fallout from the pre-match handshake between Manchester United and Manchester City, for example, could cause a financial meltdown. But Pearson explained there are a number of ways to make it more secure. “The amount of money transferred during a handshake could be stated verbally, typed on a smart phone display or even determined by a gesture.” This is still some way off, but it certainly does throw up an interesting possibility or two. Buyer and supplier handshakes: rather than just simply go for the standard handshake to transfer payment to a supplier, savvy buyers could get full value by developing a special handshake with each supplier and personalise the relationship. Gesture payments: this would allow buyers to further personalise the payment process by developing a gesture that relates to the goods or services being procured, so when you sign a deal with your mineral water supplier, you could drink an imaginary glass. Buying pens? Sign the air. Have to pay the taxman? Perhaps I should leave it there…
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