Banking is Necessary Banks are Not.

This is a quote attributed to Bill Gates, which resonates with me. Whether the quote banking is necessary banks are not, is the real quote, or it is:

banking is necessary

Both of these quotes petrify banking executives, because they are both true.

Banks continue to claim they are embracing the use of technology, or FinTech as they would have you call it,  but that does not  ring true to me.

The reason I call bovine feces on this statement is my understanding of a few key factors in banks.

  • Banks do not like new things, until they are proven money-making ideas. Adaptation of new ideas is not any banks strong points (unless it makes them a lot of money).
  • The backbone of the #FinTech revolution is ATM machines and point-of-sale systems which are still running on Windows XP. #FinTech is not as futuristic as you might think.
  • COBOL programmers are still making a fortune from Banks , because Banks are afraid to upgrade their existing core system to a language from this millennium. This odd situation which arose with Y2K, where programmers were paid ludicrous sums of money to make the following change in systems:
    • 05 YEAR PIC 99
      * DEFINE A YEAR ONLY NEED 2 DIGITS
    • 05 YEAR  PIC 9999
      * NOW WILL WORK UNTIL YEAR 9999
  • Yes, that was a big money-maker for a few consultants (I am simplifying). These same consultants continue to make bags of money because banks are afraid to use a new language like say C++ or Java?
  • Banks have Fiefdoms and they don’t like playing with each other, thus they typically have very diverse computer systems. This I can guess on the basis of a few observations I have seen at a specific bank, which merged with a large trust company many years ago. The Trust Company still exists in parts of the banks system, which has lead to issues with systems interworking with each other.

There are countless other examples out there, but this belief that FinTech will be changing things for Joe (or Josephine) Six-Pack any time soon is a falsehood.

Automation of systems continues with Banks, but again, these are cost-saving measures, not technological leaps forward. Being able to photograph a cheque to deposit cuts down on the  bank having to archive cheques, mail out cancelled cheques, etc., so it was finally adopted by the big banks.

The applications on Smart Phones are allowing banks to close more branches, and cut down on employees, again a cost-saving measure.

The Future is so Bright?

We need banking services, but, unfortunately the way the banks implement them, leave a great deal to be desired. The business of banking will see many changes over the next few years, but not quite as many as a lot of financial pundits think.

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WYSIWYG Banking

WYSIWYG Banking

What the heck is WYSIWYG Banking? Why is it not possible to have a single bank account, that I can do all my banking with, without having to worry about transaction counts, and fees? This was the core of the presentation from Dan Dickinson of EQ Banks on the weekend, where they explained how their single account solution works (Tangerine also has a similar type of account), but this got me thinking about how (thanks to technology) banking has changed, yet, some “traditions” continue on (i.e. the Chequing Account, the Savings Account and the High Interest Savings Account).

Bank Fees and accounts should be WYSIWYG Banking

What are you seeing ?

What do I mean by WYSIWYG (pronounced “wiz-ee-wig”) ? In the 80’s the tech world wondered at text editors which were WYSIWYG, but in the 60’s we loved a song by the Dramatics of the same name:

What You See is What You Get

OK, so the Dramatics song is actually called Whatcha See is Whatcha Get, but you get my point. Having an editor that showed you what your final document might look like was a huge breakthrough.

What do I mean by this archaic technology phrase? Why is it that if someone talks about a new and exciting banking account it comes with about 30 disclosures/commentaries (usually in a very small font at the bottom of the page) (disclosure: I stole that line from the EQ Bank guy), how is this that much different from one of the standard accounts I have.

If I do more than 2 withdrawals or payment transactions on my HISA (High Interest Savings Account), I get dinged with a huge fee (I think it’s like $7.50), and my chequing account pays no interest whatsoever, but I keep asking why? Yes, in the days of ledgers, and paper records keeping this made sense (maybe), but now the record-keeping is all technology based, so why can’t I have a single bank account? Why must I have:

  • A chequing account, where I do most of my banking like paying bills, writing cheques, etc.,
  • A savings account (or a HISA) to put my rainy day money
  • An Emergency Account, that is a safe place to put money, but I can still get at quickly if there is a problem.
  • Not to mention all the registered savings accounts that I have.

It is starting to get to the point that I have as many bank accounts as I do log in IDs on the Internet (OK not that many but I have well over 10 different accounts, and that is only with 1 bank, I have other accounts at other banks).

Tangerine and EQ Bank look like they are trying to get to a single bank account (or WYSIWYG Banking), but they are not quite there yet.

Yes, this is a great song too!

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Debt Cash Grabs and Your Bank

A while ago, Gail Vaz-Oxlade put out a simple Facebook post that blew my mind, about debt cash grabs.

I had heard that banks can ask for a debt to be repaid in full any time (i.e. a debt cash grab ), but evidently it happens a great deal, when folks build up large debts, or get too delinquent with their debts. The terms of your banking agreements make this all legitimate (so read them over closely to see what other interesting things your bank can do, I am sure there are others), but it does seem interesting that banks want you to consolidate your banking in one bank, and they will entice you to do this with great “deals” on things.

debt cash grabs

Don’t put all your eggs in this one mousetrap

Does this mean you should go out and diversify your assets and your debts so that they are at least arm’s length away from each other? Might not be a bad idea, if you are the kind of person that builds up large personal debt loads and is very likely not to pay those debts back (or has a tardiness streak in you), but then again, if you were that kind of person, would you think of this?

It seems there are folks who try to game the system, and will bounce around from bank to bank attempting to stay one step ahead of debtors prison (or the bill collectors), but I haven’t met many of those folks. Is your bank suddenly garnishing your money a real concern? Not for most folks, but it is something you should keep in mind, just like if you buy your lottery tickets with a credit card, it is treated like a cash advance.

File this one in your TIL file (Today I Learned), about banks and debt cash grabs.

 

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Financial Knowledge Draining Away

I was reading a very interesting article in the Bloomberg Businessweek† “Chowing Down on Boomers’ Brains“, which talks about the huge loss of “tribal knowledge” with the retirement of the Baby Boomers from the workforce, and it has me wondering just how well our Banks are going to deal with this “brain drain” from their ranks? Evidently some very large firms in the states (GE, GM and others) have this as a major risk in the near future.

As an example in my little part of the Government, about 25% of our department is going to retire this year. This might be an extreme example, but how we are going to keep all that “tribal knowledge” or “industrial memory” is not clear to me (as most folks are not being hounded to do “brain dumps” of what they know).

Retirement

Collective Knowledge Wandering off Into the Sunset

What does this have to do with banks, you might ask? The banks and government have 1 common stream, they both have very nice Pensions for their employees (in most cases), so in most cases folks who can retire, will retire (i.e. will not keep working because they can’t afford to retire).

If you want a concrete example of the danger of “brain drain due to retirement”, you need only look at the infamous Y2K fracas, where banks had to pay an exorbitant amount of money to “contractors” to repair COBOL code that could not deal with the concept of a year having more than 2 digits.

Is this going to happen again? I don’t know, but I just wonder how much “collective knowledge” in the banks (about day to day business, information technology and other operational areas) is simply wandering off into the sunset of retirement? I guess we will find out when we see how many folks are hired back on contract to maintain antiquated but essential systems. Another interesting angle to this discussion is that the CRA is a government agency and is most likely suffering the same issues with retirements as well? Maybe they will forget how to tax us? (OK, maybe that one is a stretch).

Can the banks plug the brain drain? Let us hope they are thinking about that.


– Note that while Bloomberg Businessweek is an expensive magazine to buy and read, it is available from the Ottawa Public Library (for free) using the Zinio application, keep that in mind.


Photo by satit_srihin. Published on 31 January 2016 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Financial Redundancy

In the high-tech world the term redundant is actually a good thing. Most folks think of redundant in terms of jobs, and being declared redundant (i.e. being laid off, or the like), however in the high-tech world redundant is actually a vital part of reliability. If there are redundant systems in place, or redundant connections then there are backups in place to take over if one of the systems fails, and that is what I mean by Financial Redundancy.

Last week there was a very good tweet that inspired me to think about this concept.

The point being made is that you need to have a separate bank account in a different bank or savings concept (trust company or the like) just in case your main bank account or bank gets compromised in some way. What do I mean by compromised?

  • Your account has been hacked and thus locked out so you have no access to it, until the issues with the security intrusion is remedied.
  • Your bank “goes down”. This can be a myriad of possible issues including: Interac failure, Computer system crash, bank is hacked (as mentioned in the tweet), etc.,
  • Your bank fails? Yes, this is ridiculously drastic, but it has happened, and I am sad to say, it will happen again (ask the folks who had money in Savings and Loans in the states)

Really the question is what do you do if you don’t have a redundant money supply to fall back on? You could use your credit cards, and you already have a redundant system there don’t you (pretty much everyone has more than 1 credit card, a Visa, a Mastercard, an Amex, maybe even a Diners Club), so why don’t you have some redundant savings in place too?

Redundancy

This Seems Redundant

An idea is maybe putting your Emergency Fund (which we all should have in some fashion) at a different bank? That way it really can help in an emergency.

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