Friday, March 16, 2007

I have a great way to make banking in Canada more efficient and fair -- make it work exactly like Fido's new cellular phone billing.

You may have seen the new Fido ad, where a man and his frighteningly similar dog make a three-second phone call. It's apparently to order a mob hit, but that's beside the point, which is that Vito only got billed for the time he was on the phone.

I'd like to see this system applied to in-branch banking. I happen to be a former resident of the United States, where a bank transaction involving a deposit generally goes like this:

"Hi, I'd like to deposit this cash and a check."
"Great! Here's your receipt. Bye!"

Conversely, a bank transaction involving a withdrawal sounds like this:

"Hi, I'd like to withdraw $500 cash from my checking account."
(Teller reaches into conveniently placed drawer)
"Here you are! Is there anything else today?
"Can I have a sucker?"
"Sure! Have a great day!"

Nice and easy, right? Unfortunately, Canadian banking doesn't work in the same way. My deposits go very smoothly, and the withdrawals a bit longer, as the teller has to go back to the big boss and ask her for my money. Not that big a deal.

The problem comes when Johnny Luddite comes in with his four credit card bills, his car payment, truck payment, house payment, hottub payment, boat payment, Hydro bill, gas card bill and several other rumpled pieces of paper. Johnny lays this on the counter in front of the teller and says, "I'd like to take care of these."

As an American, when I first witnessed this, I expected gales of laughter from the teller, followed by pointing and sniggering from the other bank patrons. I mean, c'mon -- who doesn't pay their bills through the mail by a cheque, over the phone or in person at the utility office.

Canadians, that's who.

The teller calmly gathered the heap of financials and in 10 short minutes was able to put Johnny's financial house back in order. This is quite the feat the first time or two you see it, I must admit.

However, the 50th or 60th time someone dumps a laundry bag full of bills on the counter when you need to get on your way, it can be irritating. Therefore, I propose this new two-pronged system in an effort to speed up bank lines, make tellers lives easier and, more importantly, lower my ridiculously high banking costs.

First -- employ the Fido method. Each patron should be charged for the amount of the teller's time taken up. In my case, the average transaction takes less than a minute -- I never ask for a receipt (it's available online) and I count my money before I hand it over.

I think $.25 a minute is a reasonable charge. That works out to $15 per hour, assuming the teller doesn't dawdle much between customers, and it also means anyone coming into the bank with their entire fiscal history expecting the teller to handle it is going to bear the burden of taking up more time than I do.

Second -- a fee for paying bills. If the bank is willing to take care of this for patrons, then patrons should be willing to give a little something back. Perhaps $.50 per bill paid? I'm guessing there would be a sudden stampede of people asking about paying by phone or signing up for online banking.

This could also be a boon for the bank managers, as the system could provide them with an extra tool for tracking teller performance. Of course, all I really care about is getting in and out of the bank a little more quickly and perhaps with a little more dough still in my pocket.

So let me know what you think, TD Canada Trust, BMO and Scotia. Oh, and if you decide to employ this -- I'd expect more than a sucker.

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