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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Right on Mr. Wellens!!! I would be laughing out loud - enjoying your sense of humor - if the issue itself wasn't so frustrating! I found your posting because I Googled "BANK STATEMENT" + "AMERICAN EXPRESS SETTLEMENT" - for oubvious reasons of having the same issue. It is impossible to analyze the "American Express Settlement" logs - not for just having missing transactions, but for some extra transactions between both debit and credit that have no way of being pinpointed. Extremely frustrating! My responce is coming your way in 2010, but issue is still here.