CIBC SmartBanking for Business: An In-Depth Review

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CIBC SmartBanking review

There has been a ton of hype around the new CIBC SmartBanking app and its integration with Xero. Well, Dan and I just set up a new corporation and figured we’d use the opportunity to open an account with CIBC* and test their “SmartBanking for Business” application. We were expecting big things. 

In particular, we wanted to test the direct integration with Xero and Quickbooks**, and get a feel about what it is like to work with CIBC.

This article will highlight the process of signing up for a CIBC account, and review the SmartBanking Business application.

TL;DR version: We don’t like it. I wouldn’t switch banks for this tech, and their customer service is pretty ordinary.

 

Process – bank accounts

Setting up the account was pretty straight-forward. We emailed our designated business account manager our Certificate of Incorporation and a few other bits of information, and he took care of the paperwork. We popped down to the bank for identity verification a few days later, and received cheques***, debit cards and the usual pile of papers.

The entire process took less than two business days. It probably would have been completed on the same day if we could have made it down to the bank a bit faster. Kudos for making this part simple.

The CIBC representative gave us an “Advance Business Operating Account”. I have no idea what that is. There were no explanations given, and that was just one of the nine different business account types they offer. Some discussion on this was probably warranted, but it was skipped by the rep.

Fees were never brought up or supplied, either. I could have asked, but as a test of their process I didn’t. I figure the onus is on them to discuss these things. I guess we’ll find out when we receive the statements.

There was no assistance provided to access anything online. Not even an email with a link. 

There was no assistance provided to access anything online. Not even an email with a link. 

Buried in the details of the banking agreement was a sneaky passage which provided our consent for the CIBC group to engage in direct marketing to you via mail, phone, and ‘other means’. There is no ‘opt-out’ option. You have to contact CIBC to get removed from their marketing machine. That’s some dirty marketing tactics.

Overall, setting up an account with CIBC was pretty easy, but I’m a bit annoyed about the lack of disclosure around fees and that marketing thing.

 

SmartBanking – The set up process

Obtaining access to SmartBanking doesn’t happen at the branch level when you open an account. Actually, it did not seem like the banking rep knew much about the SmartBanking app.

Instead, I was contacted by a SmartBanking account rep who discussed why I wanted to use the SmartBanking application. Duh, Xero integration! I found out later that they won’t turn on all the features unless you ask specifically for them. I didn’t think to ask for the ability to collect Pre-Authorized Debit, and had to go back weeks later and request it.

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Our first major surprise: we’ve been hearing about the new integration with Xero for MONTHS, yet fees were never once brought up. If you want to connect SmartBanking with Xero you have to pay $5 per month. Wait till you hear what you get for that. It will blow your mind – and not in a good way.

The rep then emailed me a 24 page PDF document for another signature. They didn’t use DocuSign or anything useful like that to help with the process. More work for me! I guess that’s why banks are so profitable – they outsource the work to their own clients.

Next surprise: it takes them 10-15 days to set up an account on the platform. WTF? Turn the damn account on, already. It actually took a full 15 days, although they would probably tell you they mean 10 to 15 ‘bank’ days. I guess they managed expectations and delivered as promised. It must be my fault for expecting faster turn-around.

So 15 days later, I receive three different emails with giant blocks of text containing the instructions for creating a login. Talk about confusing and un-refined.

Part of the sign-on process was setting up two-factor authentication. We fully support 2FA as a security buff, but were miffed as they don’t allow common 2FA apps such as Google Authenticator. Instead, you have to use their physical tokens (for a $25 fee), or their app (RSA SecureID). RSA was a pain to connect.

Overall, the sign-up process for SmartBanking has been painful. For me, it took about an hour. Dan hasn’t been so lucky because he was on vacation when those three emails arrived. After seven days, the links expired. He sent an email to our Smartbanking rep and was shortly told to call their help desk. After spending twenty minutes on hold he had to go to another meeting so that issue still isn’t resolved. I guess he’ll spend more time on hold tomorrow. Have fun Dan!

They did get one step right in the setup process: it was really easy to connect the app to Xero. 

 

CIBC Online Banking 

Just for clarity SmartBanking and their ‘normal’ online banking are NOT the same thing.

In total contrast to CIBC SmartBanking sign-up, it was dead easy to set up online banking. I just went to the website and typed in my bank card number created an account, and had access. Easy. Note that the login credentials are completely different from SmartBusiness.

I spent a few minutes clicking through the features: nothing is missing, or unexpected: send interact e-transfers, pay bills, transfer funds between your own accounts, make wire transfers blah, blah, blah. It’s all pretty easy to use and the same as most of the other banks. There aren’t any EFT abilities though – they’re reserved for SmartBanking.

Notable was the ‘Pay and File Taxes’ button which I quickly hit. CIBC allows you to quickly sign up for CAN-ACT online, which allows you to make direct payments to the federal and provincial governments for any tax or levy accounts. They made this really easy, which is great because it’s stupid hard to pay taxes in Canada.

 

SmartBanking – the actual app

We were really excited to Canada’s first direct bank feed be release. CIBC should have the ‘first-mover’ advantage and scoop up plenty of customers. However, I think they’ve blown the opportunity. There wasn’t a lot of “Smart” in this app.

Xero integration

Remember that $5.00 a month you pay to integrate with Xero (and Quickbooks**)? Here is what you get for it: you can see your accounts payable and accounts receivable balances (screenshot below).

That’s it. Nothing else. You can’t do anything with the information!

I thought that I would be able to pay my vendors straight from my imported AP listing. I can do this with Plooto and PaymentEvolution. Nope. How about setting up a pre-authorized debit directly from the account receivable listing? Integrating credit card collections? Recording a transfer of funds when I initiate it in the bank? NOTHING.

$5.00 a month gets you the same old opportunities for manual data entry. Seriously, it’s friggin’ useless. The only thing you get is a duplicate of your Xero dashboard, but less way pretty, and with only surface level data.

OK, you also get a direct bank feed from CIBC to Xero, which will eliminate some errors coming through the regular bank feeds. This is a good incremental improvement, and reduces the time spent checking the bank balances at month end. But that’s it.

I’m really disappointed. CIBC could have done so much with this.

Dashboard

There is nothing really useful on the dashboard. Other than a repeat of the info in Xero, it’s just a bunch of fluff information you could get from the main page of most bank websites. The payroll module lets you know how long you have to file payroll, and you can see your bank balances, AR and AP, but the rest is fluff.

Speaking of dashboard, there is a ‘Messages’ panel which defaults to the open position. I tried deleting the messages, but every time you log in they’re all back. Luckily they put the Close button in a convenient spot. Good thing, as there are a lot of messages about the weekly shutdowns.

The “Payables” and “Receivables“ buttons (on the left menu) just redirect you back to Xero.

The “Information Reporting” button provides some detailed reports relating to banking transactions, but that’s about it. Better than just a download, but not by much. They delete all the data after 13 months, so make sure you get what you want quickly! What is it with banks denying access to your own data? It must be really expensive for them to store. Don’t worry, you can pay them to retrieve anything older than 13 months.

The “Knowledge Centre” button is a link to the help files.

You can’t see it on the screenshot but there is also Payroll integration with Ceridian Powerpay. We didn’t test it because this corporation won’t have payroll and we don’t work with Ceridian but it appears to be linkage only. There is no payment integration.

 
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Paying taxes

Remember how easy it was to get into CAN-ACT on CIBC’s regular banking app? Not so with SmartBanking. You’re redirected to the CAN-ACT log-in page. I tried logging in with my SmartBanking credentials. Rejected. Then I entered my regular CIBC e-banking credentials. Also rejected. WTF? I guess I just won’t pay taxes. Or I could spend another hour on the phone with tech support.

Cash management

This is the first time the CIBC app gets interesting. Expect a bit of annoyance if you use Chrome ‘coz the Cash Management Services (“CMS”) module seems to freeze up randomly when you open it, even after you clear your cache, cookies, and all those other go-to fixes. It’s a completely separate module to the dashboard – other than a menu item, there is no data integration whatsoever.

CMS allows you to pay any vendor, globally. In Canada that means EFT transfers; outside of Canada it’s a wire transfer.

You also have the usual options for bill payments, but not for Interac E-transfers. Actually, you can’t send those anywhere – you have to use EFT or bill payment. 

You can add vendors and employees one at a time, or add them in groups. If you’re running payroll, you can add all your employees to one group (template), and then punch in the net pay numbers for payroll. Manual data entry only: there is no integration or ability to import a CSV.

The interface is microscopic. Seriously, there are drop down buttons I have to squint to see (my vision is fine, thank you). Total user interface fail.

So, overall, CMS lets businesses send EFT and wire payments in a pretty decent platform. If you’re managing large quantities of payments and need decent internal controls (more later) then this platform is a good way to go.

It takes two or three days to deliver funds with an EFT, which saves a couple of days compared to Plooto and PaymentEvolution.

Fees 

As previously mentioned, they didn’t discuss fees with us. Or provide documentation. We found out the monthly fees when they drew them from our bank account: $30/month! Keep in mind that this isn’t an operating corporation – it’s a HoldCo with very limited transactions. Either our banking rep didn’t listen to our needs and signed us up for the wrong account or they just like charging lots. Our ATB account for the partnership is only $20/month, with an awful lot more transactions, and no additional fees.

There are no additional charges for the SmartBanking app, but connecting it to Xero is a waste of $5.00 per month.

EFT charges are $2.00 per transfer to another Canadian bank account. It’s great to have this feature, but $2.00? Compare that to the $0.85 by PaymentEvolutions or Plooto and they aren’t even banks, or the $1.50 for an Interac e-transfer. It seems a bit excessive. If your vendors accept it, then Interac e-transfers are faster and less expensive. 

Wires are $20.00, which I think is cheaper than normal.

Internal controls

Summary: better than nothing!

Our first pleasant surprise with internal controls was that two people must approve every payment. If I set something up, Dan has to approve it. This is perfect for small business owners where a bookkeeper might set up the payment information, and then the owner can approve it. Also great for NPO’s and larger businesses where duplicate signatures are often required.

Then we got hit with the shocking surprise: they can’t turn this off! But what if you, like many business owners, do all the banking yourself? You have to have TWO DIFFERENT SIGN ON IDENTITIES. You log in, create a transaction, and then log out. And then you log in again with your second identity and approve the transaction. ROFL. This had us literally crying with laughter.

So that sucks.

Everyone’s heard about the fraud at Grant MacEwan a few years ago, right? An accounts payable clerk received an email purportedly from a major vendor. Clearly a phishing attack, but I guess the clerk didn’t get that. The email requested an update to the vendor’s bank account details. The clerk didn’t verify its authenticity. There were no controls to prevent the clerk changing the account number, and $11.8 million dollars later GMAC had a bit of a problem.

Good controls prevent that. First, you call your vendor and verify the change is legit. Then, you require a second sign-off. Or you limit the ability to change a bank account to super-users.

CIBC could have put that limitation into place in this app, but they didn’t. Just for fun, I changed a vendors**** details to my personal bank account. I’ll see if Dan notices when he goes to approve the bill payment. I don’t think he will, and I’ll thank him for the donation to my beer fund.

 

Conclusion

The only benefit I can see with SmartBanking is easy access to sending EFT payments. I haven’t tested every online banking platform but this is a pretty standard feature (if you’re willing to pay for it).

The setup process was annoying, the integration with Xero was worthless, and it’s a long wait to get through to the help desk.

Here is what CIBC could do to make this worthwhile:

  • Discuss the account fees with your clients

  • Fix the sign-up process so it’s easy to follow

  • Allow other 2FA options (Google Authenticator!)

  • Allow single signing authority

  • Integrate our accounts payable listing so we can pay our vendors directly without manual entry. I.E. Link our Xero contacts to the app.

  • Integrate our accounts receivable listing with a payment gateway (both credit card and pre-authorized debit) so we can collect on our invoices

  • Prevent changes to vendor banking details without super-user sign-off.

Overall, I would say that CIBC completely failed to distinguish their product from any other “big bank” platform.

I think we’ll just close our account and stick with ATB.

* We normally bank with ATB, RBC and TD

** Which we still refuse to use

*** Which we will never use

**** Don’t worry, the vendor is our LLP. I’m ‘stealing’ money from my other pocket in the interest of science.

 
 
Ian Stanley-Maddocks