I survived Vegas and day 2 of the Money2020 Expo! Whenever and wherever I travel, I rely upon the taxicab drivers to provide me with the pulse of the place I am visiting. Cabbies are almost without exception highly opinionated and eager to talk. My cabbie this morning, Omar, was no exception. He moved to Vegas from Seattle in 2007, just in time for the economic train wreck, and soon found himself unemployed in the epicenter of the tsunami, judging by the destruction in wealth and property values.
A 4,800 sq. ft 5-bedroom house in Kyle Canyon that sold for $580,000 in 2007 can be had for $235,000 today. Omar told me about a friend of his who bought a house last month in a short sale for $55,000 that had last sold for $225,000 in 2006.
A tradesman by training with a special skill in hanging paper in hotels and convention centers, Omar arrived in Vegas just in time to witness an artic freeze in new construction. It’s almost 5 years later and now he is driving a cab; Vegas has a glut of hotel rooms and unsold condominiums that will likely take Omar’s lifetime to absorb.
No doubt, the Vegas economy is still sucking wind. In a town with an infrastructure to support more than 100,000 conventioneers at the same time, on a typical week the city sees a crowd of 25,000. Money2020 was a throng of 2,000, which struck me as an awful lot of folks getting together to scheme up ways to help consumers spend their money.
Day 1 at Money2020 was devoted to the “Consumer Perspective: Expectations and Experience.” The sound system brought us Abba belting out:
Money, Money, Money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
In the rich man’s world
And then there was Suze Orman’s admonition that 150MM Americans are living on the brink of financial chaos. Omar, my cab driver, is one of those people living on the brink. He is also very much dependent on the technology and infrastructure that companies new and old are creating and showcasing at Money2020. What do I mean by this? Well, when I arrived at the Southwest terminal at 5:45 on Wednesday morning, I fumbled for my wallet and realized that I didn’t have enough cash to pay the meter and give Omar the tip he deserved. So I reached for my AMEX card, which I swiped on the card reader attached to the back seat of the cab. I swiped once and waited for some recognition that the card was being read. Another swipe, and still no signs of life. A third swipe and I suddenly had an adverse relationship with the card reader and all it stood for. On the fourth attempt, there was finally a positive response: a voice that told me my card was being authorized. Now all I had to do was tap the box on the screen indicating whether Omar deserved a tip of 20%, 30%, or 40% for his early morning friendship. It’s a wonderful world that takes the heavy math out of calculating a percentage!
With my paper receipt in hand, Omar and I parted ways. The friendly voice and the user interface of the card reader were all about Day 1 at the Expo: “The Consumer Experience.” The not so perfect, but ultimately successful payment process was the theme for Day 2: “The Building Blocks – Solutions & Infrastructure.” If you think of it as plumbing, Day 1 was about the faucets and appliances, and Day 2 was about the pipes that carry the water.