Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh the Joys of Being an American Express Merchant

I am sure that the presidents of large corporations like American Express do not lay awake at night figuring out how they can undermine and depress the presidents of smaller corporations like InterWorking Labs.

I suppose, like all of us, it is a real challenge for American Express to recruit, develop, and retain capable staff.

It would be nice if they could correct their mistakes in a timely manner, though.


April 21, 2008

Mr. William H. Glenn


Establishment Services North America

American Express

P.O. Box 53601

Phoenix, AZ 85072

Dear Mr. Glenn,

Thank you very much for your letter of August 3, 2007 welcoming us as a new merchant for American Express cards. After six months, we have found that our customers prefer to pay with American Express and our business has increased as a result of this.

We are having a little difficulty with your staff in determining best practices for reconciliation of our American Express account. Specifically, we are having a difficult time matching up the transactions from our online Wells Fargo bank statement with each American Express transaction in our online store/backend.

When reviewing our online bank statement, we see entries for "American Express Settlement". Each of these entries has a date, an amount, our American Express merchant number and another mysterious number that is unique for each transaction. The mysterious unique number is six digits long and starts with 08.

We called American Express Merchant Services. We talked to "Kimberlin" at 800.528.5200 option 1, then 1 again.

Kimberlin advises that it is up to the merchant to keep track of his own transactions. We thanked her for that information and told her that we, in fact, were keeping track of the transactions. We further advised Kimberlin that we were trying to figure out how to match up the information from our online store/backend processor with what appears to be a unique six-digit American Express number on our Wells Fargo bank statement, and that we could not find any connection.

Kimberlin advised us that American Express would not disclose its customers' credit card numbers. We thanked her for that information, and told her that we, in fact, were not asking for customer credit card numbers, nor were we recording those numbers, and that we were simply looking for a way to reconcile the bank statement information with our American Express credit card transactions.

Kimberlin advised us that it was not possible to match American Express transaction information with bank statement information. This time we did not thank her for that information, but told her that we were positive that she was wrong. We pointed out that in Venice in 1494, Luca Pacioli, introduced the concept of double-entry accounting, which was widely adopted by all of Western civilization and is incorporated in GAAP and FASB in the United States.

In our situation, double-entry accounting means that if we have 100 transactions on March 25 for $1527.00, and we have recorded this in our online store, THEN, we should be able to look at our bank deposit activity and also find 100 deposits on March 25 or 26 for $1527.00 credited to our account. We explained that double-entry accounting is a fundamental concept that allows checks and balances to exist, and helps eliminate accounting errors.

We asked Kimberlin to explain to us what would happen if we recorded 100 transactions on March 25 for $1527.00 each, but our Wells Fargo bank statement reflected 95 transactions on March 25 for $1527.00 each. How would we figure out what transactions were missing?

Kimberlin said that in that case we would call American Express Merchant Services and we would go through every single transaction until we identified, on the phone, the missing transactions.

At this point, I requested that Kimberlin have her manager call me. However, I felt that while I wait for the manager’s reply, I should contact you. The reason I am contacting you is that I would like to invite you to contemplate, along with me, some really large merchants with very high volume, for example, Amazon.com. Do you think that Amazon.com, which might have, oh, 4,500 transactions for the same amount in a single day, and finds that their online bank shows only 4,439 transactions for the same amount in a single day, is going to call up American Express and go through each transaction, one by one, on the phone? I find that extremely doubtful.

Perhaps you could crack the code for us on how other merchants do this reconciliation? I am sure it has something to do with that six-digit number starting with 08.

Thanks for your help on this.

Sincerely yours,

Chris Wellens

President & CEO

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Yes... packs of Harleys *ARE* illegal in California

This morning a very large gaggle of Harley Davidsons roared past our house in our normally quiet neighborhood. The noise was deafening. About 50 motorcycles! It went on for several minutes. My husband called the police. This is the Santa Cruz, California Police (Telephone +1.831.471.1131).

My husband reached Bill, the police officer on dispatch duty. Bill listened to the complaint and said there was nothing he could do about it because "riding a motorcycle is not illegal". Just then another wave of 50 Harleys passed through, my husband had to speak more loudly and Bill told my husband to "stop shouting". Bill refused to give his last name. He just gave a number, #582, but he refused to explain what the number was -- his badge number? his employee ID number?

Bill is right that riding a motorcycle is not illegal.

But Bill is wrong in that the riders are engaging in an illegal activity. Specifically, they are riding illegal bikes and violating a city ordinance and a California vehicle code:

(1) The Harley Davidson motorycles they are riding are not lawful vehicles; they are modified to produce more noise, specifically 116 decibels. The noise exceeds the legal decibel level permitted according to California Vehicle Code 27202 (80 decibels). Therefore, they are not driving lawful vehicles.

(2) Santa Cruz Ordinance 9.36.020 Section B restricts the amount of noise a person can make:

"9.36.020 UNREASONABLY DISTURBING NOISES. No person shall make, cause, suffer or permit to be made any noises or sounds (a) which are unreasonably disturbing or physically annoying to people of ordinary sensitiveness or which are so harsh or so prolonged or unnatural or unusual in their use, time or place as to cause physical discomfort to any person, and (b) which are not necessary in connection with an activity which is otherwise lawfully conducted..."

The key point here is section (b). Riding a motorcycle is normally a lawful activity; riding a motorcycle modified to make noise that violates that California vehicle code is unlawful.

It is a $100 fine. With 100 Harley riders that would have been $10,000 in fines had the police been doing their job this morning.

Under another theory, an organized group of Harley Davidson riders occupying most of the street is a parade or an assembly, and that requires a permit, and while I am unable to check (since it is a Saturday), I am 99% certain that they do not have a permit.

So why doesn't Bill, the dispatch police officer, understand this? Did Bill get poor police training from the Santa Cruz police department? Did our California educational system fail him?

Since "repetition is the key to learning", please call the phone number above at the Santa Cruz police department, and ask the police what they plan to do about enforcing the law regarding these illegal bikes and the deafening noise they produce that violates both California law and the City of Santa Cruz ordinance.