Article Date: 3/1/2008

Electronic Information and Me

Electronic Information and Me

When it comes to electronic information systems, experience is the best teacher.

Jim Thomas

My Internet bank allows me to pay bills right at my laptop computer. With Internet banking, I can run across the street to an automated teller machine, withdrawal money, run back to my computer, log onto my account and see that the money has already been deducted. What could go wrong with such a system? The answer is: The same things that go wrong with any electronic information system.

Personal financial management

It was hard for me to resist the sales pitch for banks that reside online. With a minimum of physical locations, these banks typically pay higher interest, but that's just one minor perk. From a secure Web site, I can pay bills, check balances, transfer funds to other banks and retrieve tax information — all with just a few key strokes. Of course, I'm not including the several hundred keystrokes that it took to set up the bills, where I entered the account name and number, billing address and other pertinent account information. But that's behind me now, I hope.

At this point, Internet banking can get a little confusing. It's a change from the paper system that I've used for years. Within a day, the e-bank typically debits the money you've sent, yet the payee doesn't receive the payment for about two to seven days. The length of time depends on whether the payee is able to accept electronic payments or whether the e-bank must cut a paper check. Thus, if you have a bill due on April 15, you should probably send the bill no later than April 8. And, if you happen to get a call from collections, just tell them the check is in the "e-mail."

Potholes and detours

If you're devoted to electronic information, these are minor potholes on the information superhighway. The detour comes when systems change. If your e-bank is acquired by another, for example, chances are that the new e-bank will not import much information from the acquired bank because systems are incompatible. So, you must re-key payee information and reauthorize direct deposits. You must cancel payments that automatically recur in the old account and reset them. If you have spent several years e-banking, you probably don't have easy access to billing information. It may take you a few days and countless phone calls to gather all the necessary information.

When I called to complain about just such a situation, the customer-service representative confessed, "that's why I still send paper checks." Yes, I was surprised. But for me, there's no turning back. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2008