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Trouble at the bank

24 January 2014

Do you have any advice about banks? We seem to have endless issues with ours.

BANKS seem to be always trying new gimmicks to get new customers through the doors. We are now used to banking on the internet, paying our bills online, making deposits with bank cards, etc. But I regularly come across issues that churches have with their bank accounts. As banking has become easier for individuals (and even businesses), the small charities seem to have to jump through more and more hoops.

For example, there is no online banking for a charity account; so you are unable to check regularly on what has gone in or out of the account until a much delayed statement arrives. (I have no idea why it takes at least two weeks to get end-of-the-month paper statements in the post.) It used to be the same for everyone, but, now that we have more instant access to personal accounts, the treasurer wants it on the church account, too.

More frustrating is the kerfuffle when there are changes to be made to signatories. It seems that nearly everyone has to turn up at the bank with proof of ID, and some banks want all the signatories at the same time. I suppose it is for our safety and security, but for busy people - especially those who commute, and are not near the local branch - it is more than frustrating.

One church had a bank account for which no one remembered the names of the signatories, and this led to endless problems, as existing signatories were needed to change or add new ones.

I would recommend that, whether you need it or not, you have a few "extra" signatories, from among PCC members, added to the bank account when you make any kind of change. If you change signatories as often as you change churchwardens, the issues recur rather often. You can always, for the sake of clarity, have an internal rule that the treasurer - or churchwarden, in his or her absence - must always be one of the signatories, so that you ensure that proper procedures for cheque-writing are followed.

It is not possible to get bank processes, with their increasing complications, to accommodate our busy lives, but it is worth finding out the minutiae of your bank's ways of working, and finding a method of fitting that to you rather than struggling against the tide.

On a similar topic, one church that I knew well had a private trust that held funds for its repair programme. It was a small trust that had been set up 80 years earlier by three members. It was fine in its day, but, by the 1990s, one of the three named trustees had died, and no one knew where another had moved to. The money became inaccessible, and it took the church several years to gain access to it.

Occasional research through past records could help you to find old accounts, or even old trusts; but do, as soon as possible, change their quirky, inappropriate processes to something that can work today.

Send issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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