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What Makes Banks Different ?

I have run across a few interesting things that caused me to wonder what exactly are the banks in Canada doing to make folks want to be their customers? Given they continue to have enormous profit margins, do banks differentiate themselves in Canada?

All of the banks advertise (I don’t have their numbers spent on advertising, but no bank in Canada does NOT advertise). You can see some of the ads on this very web site some times, so they must have very deep advertising pockets, I do like the TD ads with the cranky old men, but that wouldn’t cause me to change banks for that reason alone.

Cheques

The first thing I noticed while collecting dues for a basketball team is that  I received 4 cheques from different parents, but I noticed the cheque design for all 4 cheques were EXACTLY the same, even though they came from 3 different banks. The security patterns on the cheques were exactly the same (I compared them under a strong light), the differences were:

  1. Bank Information about which bank this is, address and logo
  2. Customer information (name and such)
  3. What was included in the MICR lettering at the bottom of the cheque

Other than that, there is no difference in the cheque.  In fact most of the banks use the same printer for cheque designs they simply order them, and thus this service is the same.

On Line Bank Interface

This is very different in terms of who designed the interface and such, but my guess is the “back end” of the software is exactly the same. What you can do is remarkably the same, typically there is a lot of advertising around it to get you to try new services with the bank.

Tomorrow, we continue this interesting case study.

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Stupid Bank Tricks (revisited)

Previous Stupid Bank Tricks

I enjoy strategies to use the banking system to your advantage. With this in mind, I have written a few articles on Stupid Bank Tricks.

Stupid Bank Tricks
More Stupid Bank Tricks

More Stupid Bank Tricks

A co-worker told me about a stupid bank trick (with my apologies to David Letterman) that has helped him a few times. This one struck me as particularly good strategy.

Create a bank account where deposits will go. Deposits such as,

  • Pay cheques
  • Tax Refunds
  • etc.,

This account is solely in place as a deposit point. The account information is given to your jobs payroll department and the CRA.

The strategic part is to have a working account which scrapes this account, to build up funds for do day-to-day banking. This account is banking main street, where bills get paid, cheques written, groceries paid, and other normal banking tasks.

Why separate these two accounts? In the case of my co-worker, he found out he was going to be “Phoenix’ed”, as something had gone wrong with his pay, and they wanted to take back money from the account. His “scraper” functions had already taken the money from the account, so his wages could not be taken back, as there were insufficient funds in the account.

Why This Strategy ?

Compartmentalized bank accounts is an interesting idea. I have done this for saving, but had not thought of the ramifications of a “scrape back” on my account.

I assume there is a way to tell your bank not to allow withdrawals from your account by specific folks? This is not a topic I had ever thought about.

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Banking is Necessary Banks are Not.

This is a quote attributed to Bill Gates, I like it. 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 bank’s strong point (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 led 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, leaves 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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Old Financial Technology Habits Die Hard

For the longest time, I refused to deposit cheques in the ATM . This after reading horror stories about stolen cheques and the like from nefarious false fronts that steal cheques. Still, after a while, I started using this technology (usually because the lines for the tellers were so long). I previously wrote about not wanting to use my home WiFi (and never public WiFi) for online banking. I am that paranoid. Still, I do most of my online banking using my laptop, connected via WiFi (but not public WiFi). Am I a lover of old financial technology only?

old financial technology
Old Technology?

Last night I caught myself in another one of my “still thinking like a cranky old guy” habits. I was taking cheques with me to work so that I could deposit them on the way home at the ATM at the bank. I dutifully went out of my way to stop at the bank and deposit the cheques, but since TD has gone to a new ATM interface, I wondered why I wasn’t doing the “take a photo of the cheque” deposit method.

The TD ATM is simply photographing the cheque and ‘parsing’ it (although they keep the cheques, although I have no idea whether the darn things are archived or just shredded after a few days), the same methodology as if I was using my phone. Why didn’t I use my phone? The only explanation I can give is old habits die hard, and I keep forgetting about some features available from my bank.

I still feel some paranoia, so I tend to photograph my cheques with WiFi turned off and using my Cell Phone Providers network (marginally more secure), but I have to remember that the feature exists in the first place.

Old financial technology was helpful at the time, but maybe it is time for me to move on.

Old Financial Technology

Remember, the core of banking is still based on COBOL, and will for a long time to come.

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