KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, November 25, 2013

Doing Business the Unhelpful Old-Fashioned Way

Both U.S. banks and U.S. local government agencies are still operating in the previous century, which can cause small businesses like mine time and money.

In 1998 I opened a business checking account for the first time for my business, KOK Edit, after several years of just operating under my own personal name. Before I could do that, I was required to drive to the county clerk's office to file paperwork for a business certificate for my sole proprietorship. That's a 70-mile round trip. This process is also known as filing for a DBA—or a "doing business as"—certificate. I then had to present an official copy (i.e., one that had been impressed with the official county seal) to the bank. All of the DBA applications and completed certificates for the entire county were filed then as pieces of paper in a large bank of filing cabinets in the county clerk's office. In order to get the county to complete the certificate, you had to spend time searching, by hand, through those filing cabinets to ensure that no one else had already claimed the business name that you wanted to use.

All these years later, DBA certificate records are searchable online, but of course it's hard to find mine because (1) the county clerk's office misrepresented my business's name as "K O K Edit" instead of "KOK Edit" and (2) who knows how they handled my punctuated surname (O'Moore-Klopf), which carries both an apostrophe and a hyphen, along with 3 capital letters.

I now need an official copy of that DBA certificate so that I can open a business checking account at a different bank. You'd think that in the 21st century, I could request that the county clerk’s office send an electronic copy of my certificate either to me or to the bank where I am opening a checking account. But you would be wrong. The bank will not accept an electronic copy, and besides, it apparently hasn’t occurred to anyone at the county clerk’s office that having such a capability would be helpful. Someone must make the 70-mile round trip to pick up a new official copy of my DBA certificate so that I can then hand-carry it to the bank.

Why am I having to change banks for my business account after 15 years? Last month The Wall Street Journal reported that HSBC, my longtime bank,

told some of its small-business clients in the U.S. this week the bank will no longer serve them, according to a letter sent to clients that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. A spokeswoman for the U.K. lender said the decision, scheduled to take effect in November, is the result of a strategic review of all its small and medium-size businesses in the U.S. ... As part of the continuing review, HSBC is looking at its business relationships with corporate customers to determine which clients have international needs, an area that has long been identified as the bank's expertise. “Because international business and trade are at the heart of our strategy, these are the clients who would most benefit from banking with HSBC."

It’s annoying enough that the bank I had used for years is dumping me and sole proprietors like me because we’re not big money-makers for them. But at least there is the convenience that the county clerk’s office will allow my husband to do the pickup for me, as long as he has acceptable identification (e.g., a driver’s license). That’s helpful because he is off work today, so if he makes the trip, I can keep editing. But nothing else about this tale is convenient. Why are we still operating in the previous century?

P.S. My husband, who just now picked up the copy of my DBA certificate, says those old certificates are no longer stored as pieces of paper. The assistant clerk found mine on microfiche. A step toward modernity? Not quite. And yes, I am moving to a credit union. It is my understanding that years ago, New York State law did not allow credit unions to offer checking accounts to small businesses; now this is allowed, though not all credit unions offer business accounts.

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