In the age on online payments, why are people still writing cheques to their landlords?
The antique personal cheque is still clinging to life in North America, especially in the few corners of the economy that haven't been overtaken by digital payments.
Now it has a new foe, in the form of RentMoola, a freshly-launched Canadian startup that's working to enlist institutional landlords in a system that will let consumers pay their rent like they pay for so much else these days: On their credit cards.
Patrick Postrehovsky, one of the two brothers who co-founded the firm, hit upon the idea while working in investment banking in Shanghai, and living in the city's French Concession, which was expat-friendly but wallet-hostile. Mr. Postrehovsky found himself on the hook for $5,000 a month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment, which he had to somehow extract from a bank machine without blowing his daily limit.
"I was making five or six withdrawals at the end of each month just to amass this pile of cash to give my landlord," he says. "We were all trying to find a better way to pay."
His ultimate solution was simple: He'd go to a Forex and purchase the cash as an exchange on his credit card. On one hand, he'd pay a fee of about 4 per cent, but on the other, he says he accrued enough reward points on his credit card for three round-trip business-class tickets from Shanghai to New York City.
After returning to Canada, Patrick teamed up with his brother, Philipp, to launch RentMoola. Its premise is simple: Landlords typically don't accept credit card payments because the credit card processing fees cut into already-slim margins. RentMoola, however, asks tenants to pay a lower 2.75 per cent processing fee, making the twin-pronged pitch that the fee will pay for itself in reward points, and moreover, be worth it as a convenience. As an online platform, users can pay rent from anywhere in the world and set up recurring payments, as one might use post-dated cheques.
"People need to stop looking at that service fee in such a negative light," says Patrick.
In order to use the service, a tenant's landlord must first be enrolled. Users can visit the site, enter their postal code, and see if their landlord or condo corporation is on the service; after that, signing up to pay is a simple affair.
A freshly-launched startup that's split between Vancouver and Toronto, the company's first focus is on enlisting large property-management firms; the brothers say they've enrolled 20 large firms so far and are adding about one a day. Small mom-and-pop landlords pose a different challenge – "The credit and risk profiles of individual landlords are quite high," says Patrick – but he says the company will tackle that market in 2014.
"Really, it's about making the payment as simple as possible."