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Banking plans that can save your business time and money

Saving money on expenses is something every business wants to do. But keeping up with banking service fees, monthly charges and minimum balances can be incredibly time-consuming, and boring – and you have more pressing things on your mind, don't you?

What I really want is a banking plan that will keep my costs as low as possible and run on autopilot. Several banks and credit unions have started to offer plans that do just that, specifically for small business owners.

The first plan that caught my attention was from FirstOntario. For a $25 flat fee a month, it offers unlimited banking services for small business, including deposits, withdrawals, cheques and bill payments, use of branch, online, mobile or ATM channels and requires no minimum balance.

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The deal seemed too good to be true, so I started to search for the fine print. When I couldn't find any, I called Dave Schurman, the company's executive vice-president and chief operating officer, to find out what I was missing.

Nothing, Mr. Schurman assured. "Through numerous focus groups, we were challenged to create a plan that helped small businesses control expenses, relieving them of the burden of keeping track of how many cheques they've written or times they've visited a teller, relative to their banking plan limitations. So we took those limitations away."

But for a very small businesses like my own, with few monthly transactions, the plan is actually more than I need, and so $25 is more than I need to pay.

I use RBC Royal Bank's $6 Small Business Account, but wanted to learn more about what inspired that plan. I called Mike Michell, the company's national director of small business.

"The $6 applies as a credit against your first eight transactions. Once you exceed 10 transactions in a month, you benefit from built-in discounts that keep your fees competitive as you grow, and the number of your banking transactions increase," Mr. Michell said. "This plan is truly variable with an extremely low minimum fee and no minimum balance requirements."

One of these kinds of plans is sure to help you save on expenses, and there are other competitive ones out there, so be sure to shop around.

Want to save even more time and money? Here's a quick hit list of suggestions beyond a plan choice itself:

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1. Use online banking. I don't even get monthly statements mailed to me any more. I want to work in real time. It's hard to believe that some businesses still aren't using online banking.

2. Try the online 'live chat' feature. It works like an instant messaging feature to get quick questions answered without waiting for e-mail or dancing through the automated telephone menus.

3. Do your banking reconciliations weekly. Reviewing transactions online takes about the same amount of time. whether you do them in monthly batches or weekly. The sooner you do it, the easier it is to troubleshoot mistakes.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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