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05 April 2007

The nine billion pound question

OK, a simple question and one that someone with 9 billion pounds profit ought to be able to answer.

Why is it that I can take out money from an entire banking network, including from other bank groups, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the money is debited immediately from my account irrespective of whether it is a banking day or not? I have access to my cash immediately, regardless of how the banking network works behind the scenes.

Yet, when I receive a cheque and want to pay it into a branch of the same banking group in the same country they can't tell me how long it will take to clear and it is well over two weeks before I can guarantee to access my money?

Here is the issue:

On 2nd April I received a cheque which I went to pay into a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland group. I bank with the Royal Bank of Scotland, (that's the company making nine billion pounds profit by the way).

The said branch was with the Ulster Bank, who proudly display the Royal Bank of Scotland logo as their corporate logo.

Ulster bank wouldn't accept my pay in because despite the RBS group having 9 billion pounds profit, their IT systems are not fully joined up and they need a preprinted credit slip to pay something in. Long gone are the flexible days of fill in your own slip, also there are none of those flexible cash machines that accepted pay ins - no instead you have to carry a massive pay in book (this is for a business account where the pay in slips are bigger than a standard account). Never mind the fact that irrespective of who I want to pay online I can just send money direct to any bank on the BACS network. Never mind that when I ran e-commerce systems I know that all you have to do is send the details of the account code, name and sort code to debit. No, when you actually go into a real bank you get a substandard service where despite 9 billion in profits you need a special bit of paper to pay money into your own account.

So, there being no branches able to take my money I had to rely on the good old Bank Giro Credit system known as the Post Office to physically post my cheque to the bank. Three days later the first class letter, posted in Belfast arrived at my bank. So, then I phone up and they say that it takes between 3 and 6 days before the cheque will clear and that even when it appears as cleared funds online, the cheque might still bounce and I would be liable for any charges if I took out money based on the cheque having cleared. This counter starts the banking day after the cheque is paid in. The cheque arrives on 5th April and the next banking day (thanks to Easter) is 10th April. I have no doubt that if I wanted to take money out on the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th that I would have access to my money right away, so why do pay ins have to take a holiday?

6 banking days after the 10th is the 18th. 16 days to fully credit my account. Taking money out takes less than 16 seconds to authorise.

How much money is actually needed to solve this problem and why do none of the banks consider it a priority? Is it really such a leap of the imagination to treat a cheque like a debit card, authorise the amount in real time and credit the account with the same zesty speed that I can take money out?

Said bank might even make more money if people actually got a speedy service from it and then it gained customers as a result. In the meantime, I'm going to scan in a preprined pay in slip, shrink it to a sensible size and store it on the net so I can print a decent sized one when I need it.

Funny how the people paid millions to run said bank haven't come up with a real solution yet.
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