Every once in a while, I grudgingly agree with a curmudgeonly rant from my husband.
This particular rant is about bank-by-mail–our ability to authorize payments online and have the bank write the check and send it to the payee. It’s enormously convenient; no need to address envelopes, buy stamps, find a mailbox…
In fact, if there is a signal aspect to life in our digital world, it is the convenience that comes with our networked existence. Amazon visits my front door far more than the milkman used to–and thanks to the Amazon Key, the delivery person deposits whatever the package is in my front hall. If I don’t have time to go to the grocery, I can shop online and have Instacart or a similar service deliver what I need. If I don’t want to cook, but I’m not in the mood to go out, Clustertruck will bring me dinner from my favorite restaurant.
If I need information of virtually any kind, Doctor Google provides it; if I am curious about the status (or political opinions) of a friend or family member, there’s Facebook to fill me in. When my children or grandchildren are traveling, emails reassure me of their safety.
It’s a brave new world–but the old saying is right: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Amazon, Facebook and Google have made themselves indispensable to most of us–and in return, we provide them with reams of our personal information. They serve us, and we pay for that service with our privacy. Ditto the other convenient services we use.
It’s slightly different–and much more blatant–with the banks.
When my husband goes online to make a payment, the bank immediately deducts the amount of that payment from his account. The bank then produces and mails a check to the recipient. In the “olden days,” the amount of a check would be deducted from one’s account when it “cleared.” That is, the money would come out of your account when payees presented the checks and received their money.
Now, in return for the convenience of online bill paying, the bank has the use of the float– the period of time that elapses between your online direction to pay X and the presentation by X of that check.
(This little trick also makes it incredibly difficult to stop payment; since the money has already been deducted from your account, the bank has a convoluted process that wasn’t there before.)
I hear him grouse about this every time my husband pays a bill, and although I’m willing to chalk it up to the cost of convenience, I know he’s right. It’s just one more clever way that one more business has figured out how to “monetize” the processes that have moved online. And I also know that I’m one of the “marks” who enable it all–I am perfectly willing to trade my information for the convenience of shopping from home. I’m addicted to the ease of accessing any and all information from my laptop.
And I don’t want to hunt for my checkbook and stamps when paying a bill.
I’m the patsy that makes the ripoffs possible.