Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Banks dictate the pace

In the past days the major Dutch banks and the national postal service TPG, part of the TNT Group, made a lot of rumour about the digital mailbox for electronic invoices. So the client will not get any invoices or bills through the letterbox, but will get a separate mailbox for those financial statements. The TPG will coordinate the mail process and the banks will coordinate the payment process. It is unbelievable that it has taken so long for the postal organisation and banks to get together.

Electronic banking in the Netherlands is not new. It was possible since 1986, when the Postbank started electronic banking through the videotext system after a long trial. I joined the first electronic bankers of the Postbank later that year, when I returned from Great Britain, where we had lived for more than 3 years. I have never been inside a post office to pick up money. It was freedom at last: no more long lines, no more moody people behind the counter.

I still bank with the same bank and their electronic system has gone rusty a bit. They do not have a 24/7 electronic transfer service, but transfer orders at night through a private system. It is not ideal, but at night I mostly sleep, so it does not bother me really.

The bank instituted Internet accounts some years ago. They yield more interest, but are also more primitive. In this case you can transfer money 24/7, but the money will be in the account two days later. So there is no real time transfer or even one day transfer. This while other banks do have real-time transfers during office hours.

But now at last the banks are going to streamline the consumer bills at last. They are most likely looking to save costs. They could have done this years ago, but only start the process now.

The banks have set up an alliance with the Dutch postal service for this service. TPG had already an e-mail service for bills, called Privver. TPG started the service up in 2001. People could register themselves electronically without any identification, but had to write a physical letter if they wanted to abandon the service. In its first months 30.000 consumers subscribed, but then the registration stagnated and did not reach the objective to have 200.000 subscribers by the end of the second quarter of 2002. At this momemnt Privver claims to have 130.000 subscribers; it would not surprise me if the database is strongly polluted by ghost subscribers like me, who did not use the account any longer, because of the limited possibilities, and had to terminate the subscription in writing.

But now at last the banks are going to give an impulse to streamlining the delivery and payment of the bills. Rabobank signed for the system already last year and now major banks are following the example. In finances you can have brilliant ideas, but banks dictate the pace.

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