3 reasons to drop the teller and bank online

By Mike Aquino for Yahoo! Southeast Asia

I have nothing against bank tellers; as far as I can remember, I have been treated very well by every teller in every bank I’ve done business with in the 20-odd years since I opened my first account. Bank tellers are awesome people—but I’ve started to see them less and less.

Here’s why: these days, I do 90% of my bank transactions online. All my bank accounts are set up to be accessible from the Web, all my utilities are linked to my online accounts, and I only ever visit my home branches to deposit checks or withdraw money from the ATM.

I started banking online in 2004, when I opened an account that incidentally came with access to my bank’s Express Online portal. I practically opened it by accident, but my initial distrust has given way to near-total dependence.

Surprisingly, not everybody’s joined the online bandwagon. In 2010, research firm ComScore found that the Philippines experienced only a 39 percent growth in the online banking sector; Indonesians, in comparison, grew theirs by 72 percent in the same year. The lion’s share of local growth belonged to BPI, for whom 66 percent of all transactions these days are conducted online.

I think more Filipinos ought to give online banking another chance, no matter how attached they are to their bank teller. Here’s why:

It’s safer, period. Why be caught in the open with large amounts of cash, ripe pickings for a robber, when you can just transfer the same amount with a mouse click online? Paying bills or transferring funds to a loved one need never be this fraught with tension again. And online banking systems use uncrackable encryption algorithms that keep hackers and eavesdroppers out of your hair. (Assuming, of course, you’ve taken the right precautions to secure your password!)

You can respond faster. Imagine the situation: your spouse is doing the groceries, and has just left the meat section when it occurs to them that they’re short of cash. It’ll take you hours to get out of the office, raid the ATM, and get the cash to your spouse. In contrast, it’ll take you a minute to transfer the cash to their bank account online (assuming you’ve already linked their account to yours).

Simplify currency exchange.
Let’s say your online banking profile has a dollar account and a peso account enrolled within. Certain banks will permit you to seamlessly transfer from dollar to peso accounts. This saves money and trouble: exchange rates for such transactions are often extremely competitive to many over-the-counter changers, and you’re saved from physically transporting and changing your currency. Win-win… but like the teller, your moneychanger will miss you terribly.

Lest I’m accused of presenting an overly rosy picture of online banking, let me just add a few caveats.

First, if you’re sloppy with your password, all that secure encryption won’t help you. Second, no online bank in my experience allows you to do interbank transfers (i.e. from an account in one bank to an account in another bank). If neither are deal breakers for you, then try banking online. You don’t need to set up a new account, just check with your bank if you can enroll your existing account for online access.

It’ll feel strange, that first time you pay your bills in your pajamas, with no teller in sight. But I assure you that you’ll get used to it.

Savvy Living asks: Have you tried online banking? If not, what keeps you from doing online bank transactions?