Sunday, October 16, 2011

More banking thoughts

Reading Mark's last post brought to mind this New York Times article on how sticky bank accounts have become:

What they haven’t mentioned are marketing studies like the one commissioned by Fiserv, which develops online bill paying systems, showing that using the Internet to pay bills, do automatic deductions and send electronic checks reduced customer turnover for banks by up to 95 percent in some cases.

With 44 million households having used the Internet to pay a bill in the past 30 days — up from 32 million five years ago and projected to reach 55 million by 2016 — it’s a shift that has major ramifications for competition.

There’s even evidence that fewer consumers are switching banks, with 7 percent of them estimated to be moving their primary account to a different institution in 2011, down from 12 percent last year, according to surveys by Javelin Strategy and Research.

Emmett Higdon, a consultant who managed Citibank’s online bill payment product from 2004 to 2007, said that “for the consumer, it’s a double-edged sword.” While customers value the convenience, inside the industry “it was known that it would be a powerful retention tool. That’s why online bill paying went free in the first place. Inertia is powerful in the banking industry.”

Ironically, I actually see that these services are a point in favor of the banking industry. If these services are entered into voluntarily and make banking much more pleasant (which I can definitely confirm) then it is not a surprise that it is hard to move banks. Heck, I think it might have been harder back in the old days when you had to show up at a teller during banking hours.

Instead, we are seeing the banks seek out the point at which cost and convenience meet. Honestly, given the costs of handling cash, I think that they are nuts not to try and encourage electronic payments. After all, one option that Bank of America customers have is to start using cash for purchases and stop using debit cards.

My major barrier to the use of cash is the silly idea that we have to add sales tax to the posted price, making it impossible to calculate the amount due at the register (as the sales tax may vary by product, especially in a grocery store). If posted prices were the actual amount spent, I would be the master of exact change!

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