As someone who runs his own business I discovered that I was staying up too late doing boring bookkeeping. As I sat down to write cheques to sub trades, I thought: wouldn’t it be great if I could just transfer funds from my account to theirs and save all this paper and ink?
Like many I currently pay bills from my bank’s Web site. A search of that Web site revealed no information on how to transfer funds between private and small business accounts. So I wrote my bank an e-mail like this:
I have a business account with you. I spend a lot of time writing cheques to individuals (sub contractors) who I pay regularly. Is it possible to set up their personal or corporate accounts as bills to pay? Or can I easily do transfers from my account to theirs via your site?
Here’s what they sent back:
I appreciate your interest in transferring funds to your subcontractors on-line. I’m pleased to let you know that, if the person receiving the funds is one of our customers, you’re able to transfer to their account.
No way I can make my sub contractors change banks, so I asked one of the big banks (I deal with a trust company right now) and received a similar reply.
Undaunted, I wrote back to my bank as follows:
I was wondering if you can help me to explain why I cannot transfer money to other bank accounts when I do this all the time using a very primitive tool: a cheque.
Do you have any idea when I can send a virtual cheque to an individual or company through a secure on-line process?
They wrote back:
I appreciate that it would be convenient to be able to transfer funds from your account to another financial institution. Unfortunately, this is not currently a feature of our systems. I apologize that I am unable to supply a timeframe for when this feature may become available.
I was told that my suggestion was being forwarded; it was all polite and professional. But “this is currently not a feature of our systems” sent chills down my spine. They are blaming the systems again. I can imagine process issues surrounding the transfer of funds, but I cannot see the problem considering they happily take my money and pay my utility bills and large companies have been doing direct deposit for years. As usual, the hype surrounding e-commerce is a joke when a small business cannot effectively conduct business on-line through its financial institution.
So, where’s the problem? I bet someone tabled this idea at a meeting when Web pages were first being set up for on-line banking. Here’s how that meeting likely went:
Bank Director: You want to do what?
IT Guy: Since we are transferring money to big corporate accounts, why not let small business effectively do the same?
BD: Do other banks do this?
ITG: No, we’d be the first.
BD: Then I don’t see the point.
ITG: Customer service is the point as is competitive advantage.
BD: You haven’t been working in the banking industry long, have you?
ITG: I’m a new project manager; I last worked in the transportation industry.
BD: Ah, you see you don’t understand risk. Since this would be a new service that no one else offers, it’s risky. And it could make me look bad.
At this point the IT Guy goes away and thinks about the potential of raising llamas in BC.
The problem is our customers don’t see benefit in what we can do and we’re too chicken to pound on their heads for the three months it would take to convince them.
Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a frustrated small IT business owner specialized in semi e-commerce Web applications. Please send all ideas on improving business banking to him so he can forward them onto his bank.