Wednesday, 22 March 2006

Customer is King - in the British sense

One of the fantastic things about modern networking technology is that it allows almost completely secure transactions to take place between networked organisations almost instantaneously.

Of course, this doesn't always suit everyone. Take the issue of transferring money between banks. In the old days, it would take time for funds to move between banks simply because these things presumably had to be done with less automated methods. I still remember the days when automatic bulk bank transfers had to be initiated by writing them to a magnetic tape and sending the tape to the bank. With that kind of background it would be understandable that a cheque paid in to an account would take some time to clear before the funds became available to withdraw.

Now, though, these things happen far more quickly. Cheques may still take a day or two to physically work through the system, but consumers can easily and directly initiate all sorts of transfers and transactions that don't need physical cheques. In the case of transfers to my savings account, the funds are actually taken by the savings bank directly from my chequing account using the "Pre-authorised payment" method designed for collecting variable bill payments.

So why the hell does it take seven business days before the funds become available. The transfer at the bank level must happen pretty much instantly. This means that my savings bank basically have 7 days to play around with my money in whatever way they see fit before they actually give it to me. Granted, they do pay interest, but I can't see there's any other reason for it taking so long.

I was amazed recently when the same thing happened with my chequeing account. I paid in a cheque at a different branch from the one I usually use. The cheque was drawn on an account at the same branch as mine, but I just happened to drop it in at a branch on the way home. 7 days later I was still unable to use the funds.

The delays are frustrating enough, but what is almost more frustrating is this selective use of the benefits of technology. This kind of thing takes so long to filter down to the customer. Competition helps, but I've done that already. However, it perhaps helps explain why I found the comments of Disney's CEO, "The customer is king" so risible.

The media content industry is taking all the benefits of technology and making it all totally one-sided. The DMCA effectively prevents customers from taking advantage of technology to their own benefit. If the customer is king in this market, we're talking a constitutional monarchy where Disney, Apple and Sony are the three branches of government and the king just does what they say.

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