Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Unlimited Vacation: Blessing or Curse?

Posted in best practices, business, vacation by commorancy on July 23, 2018

I don’t usually get into discussing workplace stuff because it’s relatively boring. However, Unlimited Vacation is one perk that is really, really needs discussion. Let’s explore.

Perks and Jobs

I get it. I understand why companies offer perks. They have to offer perks for talent acquisition reasons such as:

  1. Companies must keep up with competition — If a company doesn’t keep up with what other companies are offering, they lose talent during recruiting
  2. Companies must offer perks that seem inviting — Again, this is a talent acquisition feather-in-the-cap sort of thing. It’s something the HR team can cross off the checklist of things to entice candidates
  3. Companies must offer perks that are inexpensive — Companies don’t want to give away the farm to offer a specific perk

What kinds of perks can you typically find in tech companies? You find perks like the following:

  1. A stocked kitchen — This includes soda, coffee, tea, milk / cream and then for food, this can include fruit, nuts, chips and cereal
  2. Bagel Friday — This perk includes donuts and bagels on Friday
  3. Lunches — Some companies offer subsidized and/or free lunches one or several days of the week

Those are all food related, however, other perks include:

  1. Day Care or reimbursement
  2. Commute expenses
  3. Free parking
  4. Tuition Reimbursement (job related)
  5. Training / certifications (job related)
  6. Paid sick days
  7. Paid vacation
  8. 401k
  9. ESPP (if public company)
  10. Company holidays

These are the HR type of benefits that many companies offer. Many of these have a real dollar based cost to the business. However, there’s a new perk that seems great, but really isn’t for several reasons. That perk is ….

Unlimited Vacation

This ‘perk’ (and I use this term loosely) is now becoming popular in businesses. Why? Because it doesn’t cost the business anything to implement and may actually save the company some money (or so companies think). On paper, the idea seems enticing, in reality it’s a pointless benefit to employees and actually encourages more employees to take vacation which may hinder productivity and deadlines.

Why is this benefit so bad? This benefit is pointless because there is no way any employee can actually use it in its unlimited capacity. If you were to try, you’d be fired and walked from the building. I don’t know of any business that doesn’t require approval for vacation from a manager. Even if you could request excessive amounts of vacation, it’s unlikely your manager would approve it. But, within reason, you can request time off and here’s where it begins to break down for employers.

The only people who can even use this benefit as unlimited are those who are in management positions, who don’t have to report their own vacation usage. In other words, subordinates won’t be able to use it, but managers will (and they will use it frequently).

This is one of those perks that will be abused by those in charge. Those not in charge will be penalized whenever they attempt to use it in any unlimited way.

Vacation Time

In general, asking for vacation time off is tricky. It must always be coordinated with ongoing projects, team commitments (i.e., on-call), other team member time off and holidays and requires manager approval. Even people who end up out sick can interrupt or force rescheduling of vacation time off.

Don’t be tricked by this perk, it doesn’t make vacation time off any more accessible and, in fact it is entirely designed entirely for …

Ripping off Employees

There are two fundamental problems with Unlimited Vacation. The first problem is that the benefit (ahem) is being implemented as a cost saving measure to rip off employees when they leave a company (and is designed to appear to save the company many thousands of dollars). This issue really only affects long term employees. You know, the ones who have devoted several years to your business. But now, you’re going to give them the finger on the way out the door? Smart.

With standard paid time off (PTO), you are allotted a certain amount of hours that accrue over time. Let’s say for every year of service that you complete, you will accrue up to 1 week off (with a maximum of 2 weeks that can be held in total). After 2 years of service, you’ll have those 2 weeks accrued, assuming you never take time off. If you leave the company after 2 years without taking any vacation, you’ll be paid out your accrued PTO balance for the 2 weeks that you didn’t take. That’s two weeks worth of salary you’ll receive upon exit, in addition to any other salary owed.

With Unlimited Vacation, that vacation payday goes away. Since it’s now unlimited, there’s no more time accrued and no more PTO to pay out for any employee. The only thing that payroll needs to keep track of is how much time you’ve used solely for timekeeping purposes. When you exit a company offering Unlimited Vacation, you won’t receive any vacation pay because they are no longer accruing any. This means that when you were formerly paid 2 weeks of PTO, with Unlimited Vacation you now get $0.

Unlimited Vacation is then an HR cost-cutting measure entirely designed to screw exiting long term employees over so companies no longer need to make any vacation payouts.

Here’s where the second problem begins. As employees realize this screw-over job and to make up for the lack of accrued time, this means employees will need to take as much vacation as is allowed without getting fired in the process. Since you can’t accrue, you now need to use.

Accrued PTO vs Unlimited Vacation

Businesses don’t seem to understand the ramifications of this perk on its workforce. The first ramification is that employees with accrued PTO no longer get the exit vacation payday. This is significant when exiting your employer and moving on. But, this only occurs on a termination event. Employees should remain cognizant of this event, but even more employers should remain cognizant of how this will change how vacation is used. As an employer, it means you need to understand how to retain your workforce better.

Here’s the second problem in a nutshell. PTO encourages employees to stockpile their vacation and rarely take it. Up to 50% of the workforce does this. However, Unlimited Vacation encourages employees to take as much vacation as they can legitimately get away with.

With PTO, employees might work and work and work with little time off. With UV, more employees will take more time off, thus working less. This is something that HR and management will need to understand about this benefit. If the point is to get people to take more time off, then UV is the answer. If you’re trying to encourage people to stay at their desks and work, PTO is the answer… but has the end payout.

It really all depends on how you want your staff to work. If you want people at their desks not taking time off, then PTO is your answer. If you want people constantly taking time off, then UV is your answer. Sure, UV saves you on the exit payments, but at the cost of people taking more time off throughout the year. It does one more thing.

The up to 50% of employees who rarely take time off will change their work ethic to include significantly more time off. Since they know can no longer stockpile and get that payday when leaving, they will now be encouraged to take time off to make up for that loss of money. This means that a workforce that you relied on to work excessive hours to make ends meet will no longer continue that trend in your business.

If you think that people will continue the same type of vacation behaviors they used with PTO when on UV, you’re mistaken. People will use what they are owed. If they are encouraged to take time off, they will whenever possible. This means that for the folks who rarely (if ever) took PTO days will now begin scheduling more time off throughout the year. That’s not because it’s unlimited, but because they understand that they no longer get the payout at the end. This compromise ensures they get the equivalent benefit and that means scheduling and taking time off. There’s entirely nothing the HR team can do about this change in vacation usage behavior when on the Unlimited Vacation plan.

It’s a use-it-or-lose it situation. If you never take vacation with PTO, you can justify it with the payout at the end. If you never take vacation with UV, not only do you get no time off, you get no payout at the end. It’s simple math. No payout at the end means using more vacation time to get the equivalent benefit. Employees aren’t stupid and they will realize this paradigm shift and compensate accordingly.

This outcome will happen. You can even watch your employees behaviors after you convert from a PTO to UV system. I guarantee, your employees will notice, understand and modify their vacation schedule accordingly. This may impact your business, so caveat emptor.

Good or Bad?

That’s for each company to decide. More employees taking more vacation is good for the employee and their morale. But, it may negatively impact the productivity of your business. With PTO, people not taking vacation means more productivity. With UV and more vacation time off, this likely means less productivity. It might mean a happier and less stressed workforce, but it likely also means less work getting done.

I’m not saying any individual will take excessive time off. No, I’m not saying that at all. That’s simply not possible. What I am saying is that if 40-50% of your workforce never takes time off under a PTO plan, you will likely find that number reduces to less than 10% of your workforce not taking time off with a UV system. That’s a significant amount more people taking time off throughout the year than on a PTO system.

If you delude yourself into thinking employees who don’t take vacation time off will continue a PTO trend on a UV plan, your HR team is very much mistaken. I can also guarantee that if managers deny vacation requests to keep employees at their desks, this too will backfire and your talent will leave. This will become a catch-22 problem in your business.

As an employer, you spend a lot of money hiring talent. You also spend a lot of money holding onto that talent. Why jeopardize all of that with a policy like UV that won’t really do what what you hoped it would? On paper, it seems like a great cost saving policy. In practicality, it will likely backfire on your company’s productivity efforts and cost you more money in the end, but not for the reasons you think.

Conversion Process

You may find that if you are converting from some other vacation system to unlimited that people do continue their traditional habits. However, that will change over time both as turnover happens and as people realize their loss of PTO payout. Once employees wake up to the realities of the new system, the amount of employees requesting and taking vacation will increase.

A UV policy will make it more difficult on the managers to juggle vacation timing, fairness and who can take what when. This will increase manager load by taking them away from managing projects and deadlines to managing the minutiae of juggling even more staff vacations.

Hourly Employees versus Salary Employees

This type of perk works best in salaried environments. With hourly employees, trying to offer a perk like Unlimited Vacation won’t really work well. This is particularly true of employees working in a call center or similar type environments. With salaried tech workers, this kind of benefit may work for you with the caveats that have been thus far described.

Startup or Established Company

If you run a startup, you should stay away from the Unlimited Vacation policy entirely. It won’t do your business any favors. Sure, it’s more cost effective, but only when long term employees leave. If you’re a startup, you won’t have long term employees to worry about for a while. Your duty is to entice your talent to stay, not leave. If you have a problem with a revolving door of staff, then you have a much bigger problem than a benefit like Unlimited Vacation. The problem for a startup is that a UV plan encourages more people to take vacation more often rather than stockpiling it for use later. Again, more workload for a manager to juggle vacation schedules rather than handling projects and deadlines.

In a startup, a UV policy means more people taking time off. This isn’t what you want when you need all hands on deck to keep the business afloat. You want most people at their desks and readily available at all times. When people take vacation, they expect to be cut off from their job including no email, no pager and no contact. And, rightly it should be. If you’re on vacation, you’re on vacation. PTO plans encourage staff to accrue now and take time off much, much later, perhaps years later. With a UV plan, this  encourages more people to take vacation regularly. Not exactly what you need in a startup. PTO works for a startup because employees stockpile and then once the business is off the ground years later, they will then take their vacations. This is why PTOs are actually better for a startup than a perk like UV.

If your business is established with 500 or more employees, then implementing an Unlimited Vacation policy might be worthwhile depending. With larger numbers of staff, there’s more opportunity for someone to cover an employee who’s out. This means if your 40%-50% staff who are stockpiling decide to start taking vacation in increasing numbers, you can withstand this change in your workforce behavior.

It’s up to you to decide how to operate your business, but PTO vs UV is one perk you should thoroughly investigate and then weigh all pros and cons before implementing it. Don’t do it simply because it might (or might not) save you some cash when employees exit. Do it because it’s the right plan for your business’s current operating goals.

 

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What is an inclusion rider?

Posted in california, Employment, film by commorancy on March 5, 2018

As Francis McDormond spoke while accepting her Oscar, she left the audience with two final words, “inclusion rider”. What is it? Let’s explore.

Hollywood Contracts

Being a Hollywood actor, director, writer, cinematographer, producer or other cast or crew requires signing a contract with the production for employment. Contracts, as we all know, are legal agreements that you legally agree do whatever is stipulated within the contract. If you’re an actor, you’ll act. If you’re a producer, you’ll produce…. and so on.

However, there are also other items that can be added to contracts to make them sweeter, such as getting a percentage of the back end. The back end could include residuals from such things as box office sales, merchandising, video sales, rentals, etc etc. These can make whatever that person got paid even sweeter. If the production does well, that percentage of the back end could mean an even bigger paycheck. It’s always reasonable to try and negotiate percentages in productions, and while many lead actors and actresses try, getting that deal isn’t always possible. Negotiation of a back end deal is a form of rider. However, this is not the type of rider of which Francis McDormond speaks.

Affirmative Action

Before Affirmative Action began, minorities didn’t get their fair share of consideration during the hiring processes in many companies. Affirmative Action was created to ensure that employers remain equal opportunity for anyone who chooses to apply for a position. This means that an employer cannot turn away anyone for the position solely based on race, creed, color or natural origin (among others). The idea is that everyone must be considered for the position equally so long as they have the necessary skills and qualifications. What does this have to do with an ‘inclusion rider’? Everything..

Inclusion Rider

Hollywood is facing its biggest upheaval in many, many years. With the fall of Harvey Weinstein (and many others), Hollywood faces much scrutiny over unfair practices in productions against not only minorities, but also against women. In particular, McDormand refers to the fact that women have been unfairly treated in Hollywood for far too long. Not only in the sex object perspective, but also from a pay perspective. Francis McDormand’s comment conveys a ton of information in those two words.

An inclusion rider is a legal addition to a contract, specifically, a movie production contract, to ensure that women are fairly compensated and properly represented within the production. However, there’s a whole lot more veiled in these two words. In particular, McDormand’s comment was intended toward the Hollywood A-Listers who command not only a high salary, but a lot of negotiating power when it comes to their employment contracts.

Basically, an inclusion rider means hiring folks into the production in all capacities that represent all ages, creeds, colors, races, lifestyles, genders and so on. Unfortunately this also means sometimes shoehorning cast members into a production who don’t fit the story or setting of the film. For example, the most recent Fantastic Four is a very good example of the use of an ‘inclusion rider’ on the cast. This production hired a black actor for Johnny Storm. This is so far out of place from the original FF comics, it actually made no sense. Basically, that film version took extreme liberties from the the source material of Fantastic Four and rewrote that Susan Storm was adopted into a black family! This was never the case in the comics. In the comics, Susan and Johnny Storm were actual siblings, not adopted siblings and not from a mixed race family. Unfortunately, the production shoehorned in this black actor into this role without thinking through if it made any sense to the source comic material. This is when an ‘inclusion rider’ goes way too far and gets in the way of the casting for the production. To be fair, that casting mistake (and it was a relatively big one) was actually one of the lesser problems with that film version of Fantastic Four. Though, it didn’t help either.

The second example is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. J.J. Abrams intentionally requested a diverse set of ethnicities to be represented in the Star Wars reboot. However, because these stories didn’t exist, casting these characters wasn’t as big of a problem like The Fantastic Four. However, by The Last Jedi, the production had shoehorned the newest character, Rose, played by the Asian female actress, Kelly Marie Tran. Apparently, the production thought they didn’t yet have enough ethnicities represented and threw in yet another another character at a time when the production already had too many characters in the cast. The Rose character just doesn’t work. Sure, they added an Asian female actress, but that was too little, too late for the China audience. China had already written off the latest Star Wars as stupid way before Rose joined the cast. The casting of Rose did not in any way help sway China to accept these newest Star Wars films.

Is an inclusion rider good or bad or even necessary?

I’ll leave that for you to decide. However, from my perspective, the source story material should always rule the roost. An inclusion rider should never attempt to shoehorn diversity in actors or actresses simply because it’s politically correct. If you’re a producer who’s adapting an existing novel to the big screen that contains primarily white male characters as the leads among similar background characters, you shouldn’t recast them using to black, Asian, Latino or female roles just because of an inclusion rider. You should also not include extras who are demographically out of place or who don’t make sense for the source story. The source material should always be upheld for casting as the source story dictates. If you can’t cast a film the way the book is written, you should find another book to translate to film that fits your casting ideals.

Rewriting the source material’s story just to fulfill an inclusion rider is not only heavy handed, it’s insanely stupid, insipid and likely to cause the production to flop. The characters in a book are written to be a certain way and that’s why the story works. If you’re adapting that book to film, you should make sure that you’re being faithful to the source material which doesn’t include changing genders or the ethnicity of any character in a book just to fulfill an inclusion rider. Stick with the source material or expect your movie to fail at the box office.

See: Fantastic Four (2015) and Ghostbusters (2016) to understand just how badly ‘inclusion riders’ can affect your final product.

If you’re writing an original story for film, then by all means write the story so that the characters can be cast in the way that makes the most sense for your production’s inclusion riders. But, don’t bastardize an existing book or adaptation just to fill the cast with random genders and ethnicities that don’t make logical sense for the story or the setting.

As for whether an inclusion rider is even necessary is entirely up to the actor to negotiate. If you feel it’s important for your participation in the film, then yes. But, what’s really more important is you doing your best work possible with the cast who’s hired. Putting unnecessary demands on the producers might, in the long run, hurt your career longevity. That decision, however, is entirely up to you.

Best Production Possible

As a producer, don’t tie your production’s hands unnecessarily by adding stipulations that limit the potential quality of your project. You want your project to succeed, right? Then, keep all of your options open. Adding an inclusion rider that limits your hiring practice may, in fact, limit your production’s chances of succeeding. Don’t limit your production solely to hire under-represented minority groups. Do it because it makes sense for the film’s story and to make that story’s setting more authentic, not because you have an inclusion rider present.

Hiring Values

As for your behind-the-scenes production crew, by all means, hire as diverse as you possibly can. The more diverse the better. As with any business, and don’t kid yourself that a film production isn’t a business, diversity in hiring applies just as much the crew as any other employee in any other business. Diversity in hiring should be included in any capacity that your film needs. Of course, these folks are all behind the camera. However, hire smart, not diverse. This means that you don’t hire just because you want diversity. Hire because the person has the right skills for the job… which means, don’t turn away well qualified Caucasian candidates just because you want to hire diverse. Hire each one of your positions because the candidate offers the skills you need to get the job done, not because of an inclusion rider. Hire for skills, not diversity.

For the cast members in front of the camera, always hire the cast that makes the most sense for the story and produces the most authentic results. Don’t hire diversely just to fill a quota because you feel that an ethnic, lifestyle or gender group is underrepresented on film. That’s the wrong reason to hire a cast. Hire a cast that makes proper sense to tell the story. If that means diversity, great. If it means all white females or all black males, then that’s what the story needs. The story should dictate the cast, not an inclusion rider.

Original Hollywood Sign photo by raindog808 via Flickr using CC 2.0 license

How not to run a business (Part 13): Hiring

Posted in business, Employment by commorancy on August 21, 2016

I’ll preface this article by saying that there is no magic bullet to hiring, even though a lot of people want there to be. Any processes put into place to reduce the number of resumes to dig through will weed out potentially good candidates. If you believe that your weed out the methods are effective at helping you find just the right candidate, you are mistaken. Let’s explore.

Don’t believe your weedout methods work

As a hiring manager, when you have a large stack of resumes sitting on your desk, your first thought is likely, “how do I read through these rapidly?” Unfortunately, there is no easy answer or magic bullet for digging through resumes.

Instead, what you need to understand is that to find the best candidate you need to read through and carefully examine every resume and every candidate. Clearly, you will find resume submissions that don’t make sense. If you try to find an easy way to skip reading, you’re going to weed out candidates that could be a good fit for your company. On the other hand, by skipping resumes, you may ultimately be left with bad candidates who are not a good fit for your company.

Don’t skip reading resumes

Many companies try many forms of pre-screening methods to limit reading resumes. Methods that include psychological tests, aptitude tests, technical tests or any combination of those tests. Depending on the position for which you are hiring, it may also include other tests such as  lie detector tests (i.e., in trust or money related positions).

Don’t get caught up in the pre-screening process and forget about finding the best candidate for your job position. If you are simply too busy and your primary goal is to get rid of half or three quarters of the resumes on your desk, you have entirely lost sight of your goal and you might as well just randomly select three quarters of those resumes and throw them in the trash. That’s how effective such early weed out methodologies are in finding the right candidate. If you believe the hype that tests are effective at finding just the right candidate, your test provider is blowing smoke. You’re paying money for nothing. That test provider is only there to sell you into their testing service, not provide you with an effective service to locate quality candidates. This comes to…

Why tests fail you

Tests weed out people who are good or bad at taking tests. If your job role is all about taking tests every day, then weeding out those who can’t take tests makes sense. However, if your job role is something other than taking tests (which most real world jobs are), then testing your candidates may weed out people who may be a good fit for your role. Not every person on the planet is good at taking tests. Tests take a certain mindset, require specific thought processes and requires quickness on your feet. It’s a mode each person gets into solely for taking tests and never a mode you get into for actually doing job-related work.

For example, in technical positions where correctness and completeness is the key to prevent mistakes, test taking is the exact opposite of what you want in your role. You want people who are careful, methodical and have attention to details. You don’t want people to rush through the work and guess at answers because that’s the quickest ways to mistakes. Multiple choice tests are extremely bad at determining if a person offers attention to detail, is a good communicator, has the skills you want or at  predicting effectiveness in a job role.

Tests also fail to screen candidates properly because apptitude, IQ and management tests do not assess a candidate’s job skills at all. Worse, the assessment it seeks might not even be relevant to their job role and may even erroneously assess the wrong skills.

How do you find a good candidate?

If you’re actually looking for the best candidate to fulfill your position, then you will need to spend the time and go through each and every resume from top to bottom and weed them out in the normal way …. by reading.

I understand time constraints. I really do. You want the easiest and fastest way possible to find your candidates without spending a lot of time on this process. This is especially true if you have thousands of resumes to review. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Tests won’t do it. Random selection won’t do it. Only by reading through the resumes and talking the candidates will you find the right person for your job role.

If you don’t have the time to spend on the hiring process, then you probably shouldn’t be in a hiring position. If you cut corners, then will get what you deserve. Yes, it is very tempting to use third party pre-screening technologies, like testing, to eliminate candidates sight unseen, but be prepared to potentially eliminate some of your best candidates by doing so.

Job Postings and Resume Volume

If you do actually have 10,000 resumes on your desk, then you’re likely posting your job ad too broadly. Posting your job too broadly is your first mistake. Not only will it bring in too many candidates, it will bring with it many recruiter calls (something will you want to avoid if your intent is to hire internally). Use limited job boards and job ads when posting your jobs. If one venue doesn’t work, wait until that job ad expires before posting it somewhere else. Don’t just blanket the internet everywhere to find candidates.

If you need your position filled yesterday, and who doesn’t, that’s just not going to happen if you’re looking for a Rock Star. If you need someone now, then consider hiring a contractor to fill the role to buy you time until you can find the right permanent candidate.

Overall Best Practices

Forcing any kind of pre-screening tests onto candidates is really no more effective than doing it the old fashioned way. In fact, the old fashioned way of reading through resumes and calling them for phone screens is probably the easiest, fastest and most reliable way to determine if the candidate is a good fit. It is also the best way to determine if you should progress the candidate to the next stage of interviews.

Yes, there are many testing services out there willing to take your money for the promise of producing high quality candidates. In the end, you’ll find that you could have found those candidates on your own without spending that money on a testing service.

Part 12 | Chapter Index

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Paypal: Don’t trust them with your checking account!

Posted in banking, best practices, scam, scams by commorancy on April 1, 2009

Paypal has been in business for how many years now?  Yet, they still can’t manage to find a way to verify a person without using a bank account?  Since day 1 of Paypal, I’ve been sternly opposed to giving my checking account routing information to Paypal.  Why?  It’s very simple.  I don’t trust them.  I never have.  I never will.

Why you should never give out bank account + routing information to anyone!

Let me first say that when I discuss ‘routing numbers’, this means a combination of both your account and your routing number. Clearly, you wouldn’t just give out only a routing number as that’s not useful. It is only useful when in combination with an account number.

When you give someone a signed check, you implicitly give them your routing information.  That’s a danger when you write a check to a company.  The protection, of course, is that you’ve given them a physical paper check for a specific amount and you know exactly how much that check was.   So, when the check number arrives at the bank and drafts that amount of money from your account, it was expected.  They can’t draw more than the amount the check was written.

Routing numbers, on the other hand, are effectively blank checks.  When you give a company your routing number, you are handing them a signed blank check.  That’s because you’ve agreed to allow them blanket access to your checking account.  That company can then debit any amount of money from your account they see fit without so much as a thank you.   Because Paypal uses EFT (electronic fund transfers) in the form of ACH (automatic clearing house), they can debit your account up to the maximum amount of funds in your account.  This means, they can overdraw your account and completely drain your funds.  ACH/EFT offers no liabilities to the consumer whether accidental or intentional.  Because you gave that company explicit approval to debit your account at will, there are no liabilities for any inappropriate transactions.  That’s left between you and Paypal to resolve.  The bank will usually not become involved.  When banks do become involved, the best they can do is tell you when it happened. You can try to ask your bank for additional help, but they will most likely point you to Paypal for resolution.  The reason is simple, you agreed to give Paypal access to your account up front.

Worse, if the company that overdrafted your account chooses to not give you the money back, then you may be out of luck.  At that point, you better seek a lawyer, assuming you have any money left to pay them.

Paypal and Checking Accounts

Paypal does not need a checking account to verify you.  They just tell you they do because that’s the way they have always worked it.  This verification process can easily be done with a credit card charge that you input later to validate that you receive the bill for the card.  Paypal simply wants to have unfettered access to your checking account.  Frankly, it’s a huge liability for you.  It’s also a huge liability for Paypal to store this information.  One hacker in their system and they could have a field day with your money.

Credit Cards and Fraud

Paypal is well aware of the fraud issues with credit cards.  They are also well aware of chargebacks, merchant liabilities and fees associated with these processes.  To avoid them, they prefer unlimited access to your checking account that hold no such penalties or liabilities.  Because the consumer has no recourse over inadvertant transactions, Paypal has the upper hand.  This is why Paypal will not verify you with only a credit card.  Can they validate based on only a credit card, yes.  They simply choose not to.

Credit cards have long established liability rules that prevent fraud occuring from both rip-off artists and from merchants alike.  Unfortunately, there are no such rules for ACH.

Consumer Protection from Businesses

Whenever a company asks you to give them routing information from your checking account, tell them, “No!”.   Not only should you tell them “no”, you should explain exactly why.  Tell them that you don’t trust them with that level of access to your account.

Should you continue to do business with Paypal?  That’s entirely up to you.  But, I still do not have a verified account with Paypal because I simply will not give them the routing information from my checking or savings account.  I simply do not trust ANY company enough with that information.  Remember, Paypal is not a bank.  Thus, it does not fall under any banking rules, liabilities or any federal insurance.  In fact, who knows what insurance Paypal even carries?  So, whatever Paypal does, you’re at their mercy to do it right.  If they don’t, you have to fight with them to get your money back.  The bank won’t help you.

But, I need to give out my routing number…

Here’s another option.  It’s not optimal, but it works.  Simply, open a second checking account. By setting up a checking account specifically and solely to be used with Paypal and merchants, you can limit your financial liability.  You can then link another account to this new account for transferring in money only, but be sure NOT to link the new checking account to any overdraft protection on any other accounts.  So, if Paypal overdraws your account inadvertantly, they won’t get any more money than what you have specifically placed in there.  So, if you want to buy a $250 appliance, only transfer in $250 for just that appliance.

The problem with this technique is that banks sometime require minimums to open an account and minimums to keep it open.  So, you may have to leave $1000 (or some other arbitrary amount of money) to prevent accrual of monthly fees or account closure.  You’ll need to contact your bank for details.

While this does work, it’s not optimal by any stretch.   It requires you to be extra cautious with how you use that account.  You have to be diligent to place the money in there when you need it.  And, you need to remember that transfers of money into the account are not always instanteous.  So, you may have to transfer your money in the day before you intend to purchase to ensure the money is there to cover the transaction.

What if I’m a Merchant?

For merchants who want to get paid for products they sell, I understand the issue here with ACH/EFT.  Again, in this instance, I would set up a separate checking or savings account solely for Paypal use.  Only give this account to Paypal so that when you receive payments, you can transfer them out of that account and to your ‘regular’ account immediately.  This way, if Paypal decides to debit you for any reason, the money won’t be there.

Overdrawn Accounts

If Paypal overdraws your account for any reason, don’t expect them to pay you back for insufficient fund fees.  You will have to deal with these fees on top of the inappropriate debiting from Paypal.  You will then have to argue with Paypal to get your money back and your bank fees reimbursed.  But, good luck with both of those processes.

Spending Limits

If you choose not to give your routing information to Paypal, Paypal arbitrarily limits how much money you can send to an individual when you buy merchandise.   For this silly reason alone, this is enough to tell Paypal to take a hike.  There are plenty of ways to buy merchandise from merchants on the Internet.  In fact, when a merchant is reputable enough, they will set up their own merchant account with a bank and let you pay the merchant directly.  You should also feel comforted knowing that when you send a payment to a merchant, not through Paypal, you have the full card protections behind your transaction.  When you purchase through Paypal, your Paypal account agreement may prevent you from using some of your card’s built-in protections… such as a chargeback.

Credit Cards

For all of these reasons above combined with card liability limits, fraud protection and other protections that come built-in with the Visa, Mastercard and Amex logos, credit cards protect a whole lot more than ACH/EFT.  Cards limit your exposure to ID theft and they also limit your liability if someone steals your card and then, for example, buys a new car with it.

For payments, Paypal could choose to issue checks instead of requiring ACH/EFT.   But, they have never wanted to go this route for payments.  Instead, Paypal forces you to verify your Paypal account by giving them a routing number from your checking account.  As I have said, this is not necessary and is a huge liability.

If you want to protect your money in your bank account from unauthorized transactions, you should not give Paypal (or any company) access to your checking account via routing numbers.  Instead you should insist on the protections that credit cards offer.  Credit cards are more than sufficient for anything that Paypal would need (at least for paying for merchandise).  For merchants, you will need to determine what works best for you.

[UPDATE: 6/27/2012]

Paypal now has a new wrinkle in its verification process.  When attempting to verify a checking account and your bank has a web portal (i.e., Wells Fargo), they will ask for the login and password to your bank’s web portal to do an ‘immediate’ verification. Don’t do it! Don’t give it to them. Paypal says they won’t store the credentials, but with all of the stolen information from various sites, do not trust ANY site with your bank’s web portal login and password. This should really be common sense, but maybe it isn’t. With that said, if you must verify a bank account with Paypal, do it the old fashioned method by letting Paypal make two small sized deposits.  First, it makes Paypal give you about 25 cents. Second, you’re not giving out your bank’s web portal password to some random third party.

As much as I rant above about giving out routing numbers and blank checks, it’s far worse to give out your bank’s web portal login and password information. Do not do either if you can help it. However, if you can manage to set up a separate one-sided transfer system into a free savings or checking account for Paypal payments and transfers, then by all means set that up.  Do not give Paypal access to your primary checking account with full access your bank account. Also, make sure that you have disabled overdraft protections on any accounts you give Paypal so that if they reach in and grab money out, when the account hits $0 it doesn’t go any further.  You don’t want to be mopping up a mess of bad debits and at the same time having to pay interest payments on those bad debits.  Paypal is not a bank and they’re not likely to reimburse you for any bad transactions leading to overdraft fees or interest accrued. So, avoid the issue and prevent Paypal from doing this damage in the first place.

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