The great equalizer, Part II Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

It used to be that small businesses were at a disadvantage when it came to being able to afford the newest technology. The exorbitant costs of that technology, combined with the limited resources of a small business, hampered its ability to purchase software that would help it run more efficiently.

“The whole industry has evolved to the point where it’s become less expensive for the consumer,” says Will Thatcher, vice president and affiliate head of the Greater Cincinnati Business Banking Division, Fifth Third Bank. “It has moved the price point down to where the small-business person has been able to take full advantage of some of these products.”

In Part II, Smart Business asked Thatcher about returning deposited checks back to customers on a CDROM and fraud as it relates to credit cards.

What are some other products companies can use to fight fraud?

Another thing to come out of fraud protection is positive pay. The client will deliver to the bank a file, via Excel or another database format, of all the checks that they agree should be paid. The process is inexpensive and it alerts the bank to not remit payment if the details on the check do not match the file. If somebody steals your checks or tries to make duplicate checks then obviously those check numbers would never be on the approved list. This has been one way technology has allowed the client to take control of what’s paid out in terms of checks as a method of loss prevention.

Another product that people use for different reasons is to receive their checks back on a CD-ROM. It saves them storage space but also lets business owners quickly flip through an image of all the checks that were written that month to see if there’s any they don’t agree with. We have several customers who have found fraud in their own company just by viewing the discs. The discs are easy to view and can be sent to the clients’ accounting firms so that they can get a head start in reconciling the books each month or quarter or year. It’s another way to stay on top of things, which helps cut down on fraud.

What about fraud and credit cards?

Protection against fraud as it relates to credit cards has changed considerably in the last 10 years. Companies used to have multiple corporate credit card lines, and they’d have maybe 15 to 20 salespeople with $500 or $1,000 credit limits on those cards. At the end of the month, the salespeople would have to submit their expense reports and the bank would generate a separate bill for all 20 different cards. Thanks to technology, we now have been able to do several things over the Internet that aid the clients in limiting fraudulent purchases.

One, you can identify in which industries your employees can spend money. You can prohibit them from buying gas with the card or going to restaurants or hardware stores. A lot of our contractors, for example, when they have people going out to the job site, want to make certain the corporate credit cards are being used at specific material-type businesses and nowhere else. If someone tries to use the card at a prohibited establishment, the card will simply come up as not valid.

Also, you can view a report each day via the bank’s Web site showing what the cardholders spent, where they spent it and what time the transaction took place. Then one bill is e-mailed to the client each month with a general summary at the end of the year.

Has advanced cell phone technology helped?

Through technology you can have a credit card machine that’s integrated into a cell phone. This allows sales staff to sell remotely, accept the credit card and receive approval right there on-site. Clients used to have to set up a satellite office and install a land line just to accept credit cards. Now companies can equip their sales staff with mobile credit card machines that are as compact as a cell phone to help create a positive customer experience. The sales reps simply swipe a card and confirm the credit card sale while in the presence of the client and to print a receipt. At the end of the day, the sales are reconciled at a central area that, in turn, ‘batches out’ with the credit card provider. This is especially handy for companies that rely on outside sales reps.

WILL THATCHER is vice president and affiliate head of the Greater Cincinnati Business Banking Division, Fifth Third Bank. Reach him at (513) 534-7037 or will.thatcher@53.com.