What's Wrong with Singapore's Banks?

The short answer to this question is “lots”, but I’m going to dwell only on a few specifics.

Online Banking

I am online with DBS and their business online banking is horrendous. Just awful. It seems like it’s been abandoned for several years.

It works in Firefox, but not in Safari. Which is crap, but it (doubly crappy) never tells you it doesn’t, it merely will not let me log in even with the correct credentials.

Getting at transactions is like racing through a confusing maze with your eyes shut. And it looks awful, I can only assume that no-one within the bank has even looked at how an actual user might struggle to interact with it. Just because you’re providing a service to ‘business’ doesn’t mean you should abandon any attempt at making a system usable. Or to speak in plain English.

While I’m mid-rant, why am I only able to see the last three months of transactions? I’m running a business with accounts that need to be done on a yearly basis - why not support me in this?

You can (with a little effort) get files out in a CSV format for importing into desktop and online accounting software, but it’s massively annoying and in a frankly crazy format (the same is true of UOB Personal Banking). Sure, I, as a geek, can manipulate the file into a format my accounting software understands, but a layman wouldn’t be able to do that. For goodness sake, support Quicken-compatible files - these have been an financial industry standard for years.

It’s possible their consumer online banking is spectacular, but that isn’t what I’m forced to use (and not what I’ve heard anecdotally).

Online Payments

It is beyond me why it costs me $30/month (with a $30 set up) to do online transactions when it surely must be cheaper than someone manually entering my cheques (which are free for me to use). In the same way that using an ATM is cheaper than dealing with counter staff, Internet banking is cheaper than cheques, surely?

An Offer

An offer: I will come and do a day’s free web consulting to any Singaporean bank on their online banking product. Redesigning an online banking system is a dream job, in that the difference it could make to people’s lives is immense. Imagine if all those niggling annoyances were removed.

It works from a business perspective too: imagine if you’re the bank with great online banking, isn’t that a good reason for most people to switch banks? I’d switch.

Merchant Accounts

If you want to take online payments via credit card you have to use a merchant account and payment gateway. Whilst gateways are plentiful in the US (Authorize.net”http://authorize.net/ being the market leader) there is one that serves Asia, “Payment Express based out of Australia.

They seem like decent people and are doing their level best to serve the major economies in the Asia Pacific region. However, the banks in Singapore aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

I had an email exchange with John, from Merchant Solutions (a Standard Chartered/First Data venture). He initially responded that:

To be our online merchant, we would need the company to be at years 3 years in the business [sic].

This obviously poses a problem, if I’m considering starting an online business, which I hope to get people to pay me for, how exactly am I going to be around in three years if I can’t take credit cards? Nice moves Merchant Solutions (for merchants getting paid in cash/postal orders for three years).

The charges for Merchant Solutions are 3.15% (+$0.15) per transaction (they have the audacity to call this a ‘merchant discount rate’!) plus $50 per month and a setup fee of $600 dollars. Oh and they might need a deposit. Thanks.

The solution seems to be avoiding this route entirely and start using Paypal. Paypal uses a tiered system, at the second stage (over approx $3,500 SGD) you’re already only paying 2.9%, and it gets lower from there. For some reason they seem not to offer the ‘Pro’ service in Singapore, but you can always get a business address in the US. You are going to take payment in US dollars right?

Short story, Paypal deserve to crush the banks.

I Have Had Contact

It should be noted, I ranted about DBS on twitter in early june, and got an initial “we’re listening” email and asked for further feedback. Which of course I gave and it disappeared into the ether. Listening without doing anything isn’t listening.

Further Reading

A great article by Matt ‘creator of WordPress’ Mullenweg on a new bank he’d like to see - hell I’d settle for one that wasn’t basically stupid.


2009