Banking Without Leaving the Office

  May 14, 2012       By Ray Atia
Although the convenience of online banking is a welcome and often used option for the individual, small businesses have a variety of additional functions to tend to. Bookkeeping and financial functions like accounts receivable, accounts payable, reporting, invoicing and general ledger duties all contribute to a more complex online banking experience. Unfortunately, the existing software packages offered by most banks arent adequate to complete the task. There is a serious gap between whats available and whats required. Fortunately, First Union is one of only a few banks that recognize the problem. First Union helps small business clients automate their crucial accounts receivable by providing an automated clearinghouse account for the small business. Account payments and their accompanying remittance information are translated from ACH format into an EDI, electronic data interchange. The processed data is then forwarded to the small business accounts receivable. A national network, EDIBANX, operated by the Chicago Clearinghouse Association, offers an alternative option. Its 14 banking participants transfer payments with accompanying remittance data to other participants and their respective customers in one easy to handle EDI format. In the past, banks offered EDI and ACH payment services to large corporate customers only. Small businesses felt that those services were too expensive. However, as a result of larger corporations forcing smaller businesses to accept electronic payments, some small businesses are now recognizing the benefits of EDI and are voluntarily utilizing the technology. Still, most small business clients continue to work with hard copy reports along with their accompanying payments; most of them are simply not equipped with the technology to receive and process electronic payments. EDI experts, in their analysis of the current trends, have determined that the EDI service most desired by small business clients is the ability to receive automated payments. Secondly, they would like to be able to receive invoices by electronic means. In addition, they would like to be able to initiate purchase orders. This is a prime example of non-financial EDI, something even First Union does not yet have available to offer its clientele. However, First Union is exploring the option of a value-added network to make that available. Currently, MCI, GE, Advantis and other similar entities, however, are running such networks. With the improved technology, they have the ability to transmit electronic files to a multitude of locations. The bottom line is, electronic bill paying is still in its infancy with a lot of catching up to do.