Payment on Stone Tablet Via Pony Express

The Lunacy of Paper Checks and Waiting Periods in the Digital Age

I’ve never typed out a text with a typewriter and mailed it to my clients, and I doubt they’d appreciate it if I did. I doubt they’d work with me for very long if I insisted we correspond through the physical postal service instead of via email. So why do some companies still find it acceptable to claim an inability to conduct electronic transfers of funds?

Back when I was a budding young freelance/contract translator, still wet behind the ears and tickled pink that someone would pay me to work in my boxers while watching M*A*S*H*, I had to accept that my job required that I wait for clients to get around to sending paper checks out by mail. Back then, that didn’t seem completely unreasonable, since the world was still in what it seemed to me were the beginning stages of electronic transfer of funds.

Back then, I still had to go to the bank to receive transfers from foreign clients. Back then, I was still sending out paper checks to the other translators who worked for me. Back then, a lot of people were still bringing home paper payroll checks and making sure they took enough cash out of the bank on Friday afternoons to get them through the weekend.

But this is the digital age, people. My Packers tickets are searched, located, purchased, delivered, and presented at the stadium on my cell phone. It has to have been more than five years ago now that people were depositing checks by taking cell phone pictures of them. Why am I still waiting for the mailman to deliver me a paper check?

I’m getting ahead of myself, so allow me to start from the beginning. I’ve recently re-entered the full-time freelance world, only this time as a writer rather than as a translator. For the most part, it’s been going surprisingly well. I’m the permanent, exclusive blogger for more than a half dozen corporate sites; I write on a repeating but less frequent basis for a number of other clients; and I have been easily picking up more one-off gigs than I can comfortably handle to fill out the rest of my schedule.

In my first two months of working this way, I’ve yet to have one customer express an issue with electronic payment. In fact, it’s never even been a matter of discussion. As far as I know, neither I nor any of my clients has even considered anything different. Until now.

One of my first clients, for whom I now blog multiple times per week every week, contacted me one day and asked if I’d mind if they suggested my services to another company with whom they were acquainted. That original client explained that they had been extremely happy with my work, and they thought I was just what this second company (let’s call them Acme) needed. Always anxious to acquire new clients and particularly interested in adding their specific industry to my portfolio, I eagerly encouraged my client to pass my information along.

The project manager from Acme (let’s call him Matt) contacted me and everything went off without a hitch. He was professional and experienced. He told me exactly what he wanted written, and he loved it when I turned it in. I turned in the invoice along with the piece (as I always do), but reassured him that payment was not due until after he reviewed and approved the piece, which could be after any necessary edits.

There were no necessary edits, and the piece was approved virtually immediately. The issue, he informed me, was instead with my invoice. I’d given instructions for payment to be sent to a PayPal account, and they did “not have the ability to pay via PayPal”. I don’t even know what that means, but I offered an alternative: “That’s no problem at all; I’ll send my bank account routing information.”

It was still a no-go. This company, which has offices in three different major metropolitan areas across the country and which deals in an industry that requires them to issue funds to their customers, claimed to be completely unable to process any means of an electronic transfer of funds. Instead, they informed me, they would issue a paper check within a maximum of 30 days of my invoice and would mail it to me through the physical postal service. What? Why don’t I just walk there and pick it up, then?

Matt was apologetic, but informed me that the company would not budge and also expressed that he sincerely hoped that this did not mean I would be unwilling to work with their company in the future. Against my better judgment, but trying to be a nice guy while also trying to maintain a client, I agreed in this one instance to go along with the 30-day snail mail paper check.

Big mistake. When the paper check arrived thirty-five days later, I noticed before I even opened it that it was written out to the wrong name (but correct address). I opened it and gave a quick peek inside to ensure that it was at least written for the right amount. Satisfied that the digits were correct, I tempered my sigh and resolved to just take it to the bank and throw myself on their mercy regarding the name error.

We never even made it to the name error. You know how in one part of the check the amount is written out in words and in the other part it is written using numerical digits? Well, those didn’t match up. The poor bank teller couldn’t even tell how much the check was supposed to be for, let alone who it was supposed to be for.

I had to wait two hours to call their headquarters office in the middle of my workday because Acme is in a different time zone and doesn’t start work very early. I tried my best to explain to the receptionist what I needed with the accounting department, but she put me through to Marketing anyway. There I was greeted by the voicemail of someone I’d never heard of and who probably couldn’t help me. I left my voicemail, but then immediately also emailed Matt and explained my dilemma.

To Matt’s credit, he got on it like white on rice. Within less than an hour, I received a telephone call from the very accounting assistant who’d made the error in issuing my check. He was incredibly apologetic, had already done all the necessary research to confirm and resolve the problem, and had a plan in place to get things back on track.

Regrettably, the company could not transfer me the money electronically, I was informed. They would instead expedite the processing of another paper check and send it by courier. There really is no way that’s not more effort and less cost-effective than submitting a payment electronically. The company just isn’t set up to process payments electronically, Zach the accounting assistant told me.

Now, I want to make it perfectly clear that I was never anything but perfectly pleasant with Zach and with Matt, because I live by a long-held philosophy that employees should never be unfairly treated due to their employers’ poor decisions and policies. So, there were a lot of things I wanted to say to Zach that I didn’t say.

For instance, when Zach told me that the company was not set up to process payments electronically, I wanted to say, “Well, Matt’s been emailing me, Zach, so I know your company has internet access. And you’ve got a website, a building to work in, electricity, probably staples, maybe even a copy machine and/or a coffee maker,…; hell, you’re an employee who presumably gets paid, so obviously there’s some company account or credit card around there somewhere paying for all of that. Internet access and some account with money in it are literally all you need to be ‘set up to process payments electronically.’”

I’d just gotten to the point of accepting that they were saying that they couldn’t process payments electronically but what they really meant was that they just chose not to, when Zach said, “We’re working on setting up a PayPal account.” Great! I’ll wait! Lemme go grab a sparkling water real quick. His tone of voice suggested that this was some huge undertaking, though. Isn’t it about the equivalent of setting up a Gmail account?

I wanted to offer to set it up for them. They could even pay me by check for that job, if they wanted.

Before I submitted this piece, I contacted a corporate accountant friend of mine to see if there was something I was missing. Perhaps there’s some super serious consequence to not using paper checks or some super beneficial bonus to using them that I’m just too ignorant to be aware of. Nope, my friend informed me; it’s just personal preference and a refusal to change. Grrrrrrr.

So, for all you companies out there still sending paper checks through the mail to people who’d rather receive electronic payment: Stop it right now… or I’m sending the rewritten website content you ordered to you on tiny bits of onion skin parchment tied to the frail ankles of carrier pigeons.

Freelance Writer/Blogger/Editor, veteran, Top Rated on Upwork, former Medium Top Writer in Humor, Feminism, Culture, Sports, NFL, etc.

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