A question of integration and co-operation: This one was a really very different case for me involving as it does, some fast-moving technology and two big organisations. Imran Khan runs St Giles Filling Station with a Costcutter convenience store in Durham.
He rang me with what appeared to be a dilemma. He had an ordinary yellow PayPoint terminal that he wanted to replace with their PPoS system, which would give him a smaller bit of kit on his counter. He currently had an old Gilbarco Veeder-Root Passport Plus epos system which he planned to replace with HTech so that he could do contactless payments and cash back (and which repays him more quickly on the fuel card front).
He said he couldn’t have the new PayPoint One tablet-style terminal, which is now in commercial trials, because of the need to take fuel cards. Apparently PayPoint One will more or less do everything else on just one device rather than you needing several. But, as Imran says, he needs to take fuel cards. He had already paid HTech £800 up front to integrate his Codax machine (for the car wash and vacuum) and PP’s PPoS which would achieve a much smaller footprint and is a system that does everything he needs. However, to get this to work he would need both engineers HTech’s and PP’s on site at the same time. This was proving problematical; although HTech had told him that they have done hundreds of these installations in conjunction with PayPoint, his PP area manager said it couldn’t be done because it was no longer compatible. I confess I needed a lie down at this point technology is not my strongest suit so I hope you are following. And I won’t even go into why he can’t use Costcutter’s CPOS system.
At this point Imran was telling me that it needed investigating: "It won’t just be me. Everybody knows that HTech is the best."
He hoped that Forecourt Trader’s intervention might lead to a better result. I got in touch with PP head office and the first set back was the fact that they needed a bit more information on the epos system as HTech has a number of different ones and not all are supported.
The system that Imran would be getting was called Hydra POS and after I relayed this to PP I got the following response: "We’re sorry for any confusion here but we’re glad to say that Mr Khan will be able to have PPoS installed on his system. Our local territory development manager is getting in touch directly to arrange."
Oh happy days. Imran later told me: "They have agreed and I’m getting it free. I thought I would have to pay a monthly fee."
When I told him that the story would appear in the September issue, he added: "My birthday’s in September."
So let’s hear it for him: Happy birthday Imran!
Bye bye bank branches
Local bank branches are swiftly disappearing from the high streets. According to the Campaign for Community Banking Services, around 3,000 branches have shut over the past decade. It leaves around 8,000 left.
The BBC says that more than 600 branches across Britain have closed over the past year. Worst affected are rural areas but also commuter towns because customers are more likely to bank near their work or use telephone or online banking. My own local HSBC branch sitting right next to a Central Line tube station closed two weeks ago.
This trend has given Kumar Selvakumar a big headache. He has three forecourts and one of them, in Oldbury, Sandwell, West Midlands, is losing its NatWest branch. It means that the only other bank within reach is Barclays.
Kumar first contacted me just over a year ago because Barclays had written to him at his Black Horse Service Station, in east London’s Walthamstow, to tell him that his bank charges would be going up to 95p for every £100 banked. He had worked out that it would cost that particular 2mlpa site £9,500 a year.
He then discovered that, via Certas, he had membership of the PRA and was thus able to switch to the more favourable rates offered through a deal with NatWest. (And at 27p per £100 deposited it was vastly preferential).
You can see why Kumar might be concerned. And since he is also physically located in Walthamstow, he manages the Oldbury site remotely and has to rely on staff to do the banking.
"It’s a small town and it’s too much of a security risk for the boys to travel far." Anyway, as he points out, that isn’t their job.
He talked to the Barclays manager to see what deals were on offer but the best Barclays could come up with was six months’ free banking.
Kumar wondered whether the PRA might have managed to extend its preferential deal to Barclays...but the answer is ’not yet’.
There is, of course, one more option. Kumar could bank through the Post Office and that would be free. Basic banking is available at 11,500 branches of the Post Office, which offers a bigger network than all the high street banks put together. But the catch is you have to wait two days to get at your own money. "It would be a cash-flow problem," he says.
The PRA does have deals with Santander, HSBC and RBS/NatWest. And I have no doubt that, if there is a deal to be done with Barclays, then they will do it. Fingers crossed it will be within the next six months because meanwhile Kumar is going with Barclays’ free six-month option.