Online Payments for EightSquaredCon – The Saga

We are very pleased to announce that we now have online booking and payment facilities set up for EightSquaredCon, next Easter in Bradford. We’d like to thank all those of you who have been waiting for your patience. We also want to ensure that those of you who would have already joined, had e-payment been available, don’t find yourselves on the wrong side of our scheduled price rise as a result of these delays. Accordingly we have extended that deadline to 1st August.

We’d also like to highlight some of the issues we’ve found ourselves facing, for clarification, and for the benefit of those involved in convention running and other volunteer-led organisations. We suspect other committees will find themselves similarly trying to square a very awkward circle between banks becoming ever more vigilant and suspicious of potential fraud while con-goers and others increasingly prefer to use cards rather than cash or cheques.

For a start, plenty of people have asked why we’re not using PayPal. This is because unlike some other conventions we are a new committee and so don’t have an existing PayPal account of our own with a full history. We’re aware that several events – including some conventions – which have set up new PayPal accounts, have found the funds in them being frozen as an anti-fraud measure, not to be released until after the convention is over and receipts for expenditure are available. PayPal assert the right to do this in their terms of service, and it’s not a risk we can take: the cash flow problem it would cause us would leave us unable to pay the hotel, who want function-space money up front. So, reluctantly, we’ve been unable to accept the risk of using PayPal.

Besides, initially, we didn’t foresee any problems using standard bank merchant services. When setting up the EightSquaredCon bank account, we explained very clearly that having electronic payment facilities was an absolute requirement. At our branch level meeting we were assured that would be fine.

We filled in all the paperwork required for electronic merchant services six weeks before Eastercon 2012 as requested, and were assured that this would be processed within two weeks. By Eastercon, as we pursued for updates on a regular basis, we were still being promised that it would sorted ‘any day now’.

Eventually, a month after Eastercon 2012, after persistent enquiries, we were informed that that the bank’s underwriters had decided that we would only be allowed electronic payment facilities if either we put up £35,000 security or if the bank held on to all funds raised until after the event. Once the event was proved to have been run, money would be released to allow us to settle invoices. Again, this measure is intended to prevent fraud, since as far as the bank is concerned, EightSquaredCon is a new and unproven event. The fact that Eastercon is an annual event in its 64th year is entirely irrelevant because the organisers and committee change with every bid/year.

That’s all very well as far at the banks are concerned but is of absolutely no use to us since we will have bills to pay well in advance of the event and none of us is rich enough to personally bankroll an Eastercon. Needless to say, we have made our displeasure at being given such inaccurate information very clear. If our bank had said they wouldn’t provide us with card payment services initially, we could have pursued alternatives well before Eastercon 2012. Not that giving the bank a stern talking-to actually solved our problem.

Since then we have been working towards the solution which we now have in place. Once again, thank you for your patience and we look forward to seeing you in Bradford next year.

Juliet E McKenna, Chair, on behalf of the EightSquaredCon Committee.

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