Wells Fargo & Co. staked a leadership position in the area of electronic deposits this week, as it begins offering merchants an Internet-based service for check processing.
The service comes in the aftermath of the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act, which took effect in October and allows for printed versions of scanned paper checks to act as legal substitutes. Almost all of the major banks and some smaller banks have rolled out electronic-deposit services for merchants, yet they typically use standard software applications. Because it uses an Internet portal, Wells Fargo's service doesn't require merchants to purchase and install software for electronic deposits.
Two new services have been designed to make it easier for companies to conduct business, says Danny Peltz, executive VP of wholesale Internet and treasury solutions at Wells Fargo. The Desktop Deposit service is available online though Wells Fargo's Commercial Electronic Office portal. The cost savings go both ways: Customers don't have to install software, and Wells Fargo doesn't have to support and maintain it, TowerGroup analyst Susan Feinberg says. A customer can scan checks using equipment provided by Wells Fargo or a third party, and electronically send deposits to the bank via the portal.
A preliminary version of Desktop Deposit was piloted in November and has since been deployed by the Semitropic Water Storage District in California's Central Valley. Before using the system, the district lost 10 hours of staff time every two weeks because employees had to drive checks to the bank for deposit, says Drew Hamilton, a controller at Semitropic. "We are about 45 minutes away from the [Wells Fargo] branch, and every other day we would need someone to drive there. That was very inefficient," Hamilton says.
Additionally, Wells Fargo has extended Semitropic's deadline for check deposits to 7 p.m. Pacific time, since bank employees no longer need to physically handle the checks, Peltz says. "This is very late in bank terms," he says.
Wells Fargo also is offering a service to customers with existing scanning equipment that lets them make deposits by sending a standardized file to the bank. Retailer 7-Eleven Inc. began piloting Wells Fargo's Electronic Deposit in October through its network of Vcom kiosks, the existing imaging systems that shoppers use to make ATM withdrawals, cash checks, transfer money, pay bills, and purchase items such as prepaid calling cards and money orders. The retailer plans to roll out Electronic Deposit to all 1,050 stores that have Vcom kiosks beginning in the second quarter of this year, which will allow it to perform daily deposits of checks, a 7-Eleven spokesperson says.
Feinberg expects banks that are using standard software rather than the Internet will soon follow Wells Fargo's lead. "Banks that are aggressive in terms of these kinds of services will be winning a lot of business from companies that they previously really didn't have an opportunity to do business with because of geography," she says. "These are the bigger implications of what Wells Fargo is doing."