The banking industry is discussing how to extend the days and hours for processing customer money transfers. The banks are urged to aim for a system that runs 24/7 by considering the needs of people and businesses that want to send money at night or over the weekend for speedy, real-time settlement of payments.

In countries such as Britain, Sweden and Singapore, a system has been established to enable money transfers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Such a system is called for in the economic growth strategy adopted by the Abe administration in June, which mentions the need to upgrade the quality of financial services.

Currently, in Japan, a customer can transfer a money payment between accounts at different banks only until 3 p.m. on weekdays. For example, such a transaction made after 3 p.m. on Friday won’t be completed until the following Monday.

A survey by the Japanese Bankers Association shows that 52 percent of customers polled said they would like to be able to transfer money on weekends, national holidays and at night for such purposes as online purchases and payment of household bills. Such requests were reportedly strong among people who can’t go to banks during their current operating hours and operators of businesses that are open on weekends.

The association is said to be weighing two options: First, having all financial institutions extend their hours for customer money transfers on weekdays by an hour to 4 p.m. under the existing industrywide system. Second, building a new system that will handle money transfers 24/7. For the first stage of implementation, a mix of the first option and part of the second is under consideration, and the association is scheduled to make a decision by the end of December.

A mere one-hour extension of banking hours on weekdays is such a small step that it would hardly change the current situation that so many people find inconvenient.

The industry should at least consider extending weekday hours through 9 p.m. It is said that developing a system that can handle payments 24/7 will take about three years. One wonders whether this time could be reduced if the banks move forward with greater haste.

Apart from the move by the bankers association, Resona Holdings Inc. reportedly plans to allow transfers of money between accounts among its group banks 24 hours a day, 365 days a year beginning in April. The Resona group has already extended counter hours at its banks to 5 p.m., and has started offering consultations on financing on holidays at its outlets in business and shopping facilities.

Real-time settlement of payments over weekends would be good news to small- and medium-size businesses as well as to companies in the distribution industry, because it should make their financing easier. However, nearly 80 percent of businesses that responded to the bankers association poll said that they would not welcome weekend or nighttime transfer services if they were charged extra.

Although developing a 24/7 system for settling payments will come at a cost, the banking industry needs to improve its services substantially to prevent Japan from lagging even further behind the global trend. In improving such services, banks should strive not to increase related fees.

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