Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is Not Yet Ready for Primetime?

I've had only good experiences with PayPal so far, but that doesn't mean I necessarily want to see PP continue to dominate the online payments space. I've heard enough horror stories to recognize that it's never a good idea to have your eggs in one basket. Thus, I was thrilled when I heard American Express was releasing its own online payments solution,, last year. I was particularly pleased that a big and widely trusted company like AMEX was behind Serve since so many of the other PayPal competitors are fly-by-night operations -- it's hard to say whether the companies backing them are worthy of trusting with your financial operation or have the wherewithal to compete over the long-term. I was even more intrigued when I noticed Serve was bringing something new to the table, namely subaccounts which make transferring money to anyone from family members to employees to handymen a breeze. The beauty of subaccounts is the monitoring that they allow: you would be able to tell where your kid is spending his allowance money, what your roofer is spending on supplies, etc. Naturally, for everyday payments for goods and services you don't need subaccounts, but for very specific purposes it's a great concept. To top it all off, was (and is) offering a $10 bonus to everyone (US only...Serve has yet to go international) who starts an account with them. Naturally, I signed up as soon as I could!

Unfortunately, Serve isn't quite living up its early promise, at least not from my perspective. At this point, I've got $10 in a Serve account and a Serve debit card, but I feel like my account is in suspended animation for no reason. All I tried to do was link my Serve account to my bank account -- ever since I can barely do anything in my account without getting a message about my account being currently reviewed. My account has been in "review mode" for months. The message I'm getting says I can contact them if I don't receive an update, but I thought I'd use this circumstance as a way to test Serve as a service. Unfortunately, Serve is failing pretty badly so far -- I have my doubts that my account will ever leave review mode unless I contact them about my problem. In my opinion, I shouldn't have to...Serve simply isn't ready to compete with PayPal if it can't handle users linking their bank accounts to their Serve accounts. That's a pretty basic, everyday operation for a payment processor. I hope these account reviews (which, judging from Internet comments, seem to be quite common) aren't simply a way to keep people from withdrawing their bonus money. Most likely, Serve has been overwhelmed by signups and simply can't keep up with the volume of activity...that's really not a good sign for a PayPal competitor, either. Unless Serve cleans up their act, they won't be getting my business in the future.

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