Friday, 30 November 2012

Payment system needed for international small business

I HAVE a stove in my living room, a wonderful thing that pours out heat. It's well assisted in this by a device called an Ecofan, a Stirling engine assisted by a small electrical motor. The Ecofan sits at the back of the stove, and as soon as the iron surface beneath it heats up, the fan starts to turn, sucking in cold air from behind and pushing forward the hot air that would otherwise be trapped above the stove. The Ecofan makes quite a difference to the heat in the room, as well as being pretty and cheering as it whirls its golden blades.
But it's important not to put it at the front of the stove, because if you do that, the heat from the chimney can destroy the motor. This is pretty counter-intuitive: it would seem more sensible that it should sit at the front and push the air out from there. So naturally the fan gets put to the front; and naturally the motor gets nuked.
No problem. You can get new motors, at various prices. And a north-of-England chimney sweep called Andy offered to buy a motor from the English supplier (which, strangely, doesn't ship to Ireland) and wander down to his local post office and post it to me. It would cost under £15.
Now, it should be easy for me to pay Andy for this kind act. Both of us have PayPal accounts, checking accounts in the bank, local post offices. But it's not that easy.
Euro cheques are regarded as the work of the devil by British banks; in fact, you can't even pay someone in France with an Irish euro cheque, or vice versa - so much for the vaunted single currency.
Sterling bank drafts and the like are designed for businesspeople doing huge transactions. They'll charge you an arm and a leg for your £15 deal.
PayPal seemed the best solution: I could pay the chimney sweep from my PayPal account into his. But even this proved a shocking palaver. I sent the money out of my bank and it never arrived; turned out that I had never linked my bank account to my long-disused PayPal account. When I rang PayPal they were helpful, and sorted it through, but I was surprised that it was all so complicated and difficult.
It seems to me that there's a gap in the market for a payment system that would allow ordinary people - and especially small businesspeople - to pay each other across international borders for small transactions.
As the founders of the Irish Sweepstakes discovered back in the day, many small transactions can make for one big profit. Irish sole traders could be bringing a lot of money into the country - if it was very easy for ordinary people to pay them, without the sole traders or SMEs having to set up expensive payment methods. The country needs that money, and small exports grow into large business. When's that method coming?

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