Friday, August 03, 2007

NETeller Exiting U.S. With Speed

The long saga of the U.S. account funds held hostage by NETeller while that company negotiated with the U.S. Department of Justice is at long last working toward a speedy conclusion. Without getting into the specifics of exactly which entity was holding the funds hostage, the results were the same -- hundreds of thousands of account holders were left waiting for their funds, totaling about $94 million.

NETeller promised a quick resolution to the matter, but it wasn't until the firm found itself de-listed from London's Alternative Investment Market [AIM], that the company finally acceded to the USDoJ's excessive demands, which included a total of $136 million in fines. Or perhaps not; the deal could have been agreed to all along, but the timing of the temporary AIM de-listing --- and subsequent reactivation after the settlement was announced --- was a curious bit of timing.

Whatever the real machinations, the long-awaited day turned out to be July 30th; as the clock struck 12:01 GMT, US residents found their NETeller accounts unblocked and were able to access their funds, though to do one transaction only --- a complete withdrawal to either the previously existing U.S. bank account (via Electronic File Transfer), or by physical check if other arrangements were needed. The only real question was, how fast would or could NETeller process the crush of withrawal requests that was sure to come?

The answer was fast, real fast. Reports of single-day turnarounds are the norm, not the exception, with some account holders --- now former account holders, once the transaction is complete --- seeing funds hit their bank accounts in as little as twelve hours.

Lou Krieger reported the following experience, in his popular news blog, with the title 'I Got Mine (from Neteller)': "I'm happy to report that those funds were transfered to my checking acocunt today, no more than 24 hours after I requested them."

Other reports were the same. Brad "Otis" Willis, over at the High on Poker blog, shared this: "Update #2: How could this update be more important than the ones that came before it? Well how about this? My money--every last dollar and penny of it--hit my back account in less than 24 hours."

While several threads at 2+2 and other poker forums have dealt with various portions of the NETeller saga, this thread contains more of the same type of reports. If your pre-existing EFT channel was still available and you made a request for your remaining funds, you've likely already received your money.

Interestingly, that 2+2 thread also contains a link to a YouTube video released by NETeller about a day after the U.S. spigot was reopened. The video also received mention in an e-mail sent out by NETeller to all U.S. addresses still shown as having funds on file, and you can view it by clicking here. The video features NETeller President and CEO Ron Martin, attempting to be casual and personable, and it does contain a couple of interesting nuggets amid its three and a half minutes of blather.

Martin lays the entire blame for the mess at the hands of the USDoJ, forgetting to mention that NETeller always had in its power to issue paper checks for the balance of U.S. accounts still in the company's possession... and chose not to do so for more than half a year. But let's let bygones be bygones, and pick out a quote or two from the video.

"On the first day alone, we processed over forty million dollars in withdrawals," says Martin. That's almost half of the $94 million total in remaining U.S. deposits, suggesting that it won't be long before the only thing left in NETeller will be a few tens of thousands in "lost" accounts, where the account holder has died, or something, leaving no way for anyone else to retrieve the funds. The six-month withdrawal program official runs through January 26th, 2008, as has been mentioned here before, but it's going to be over long before that, for all real intent.

"I've read many of your e-mails, blog entries, and web site posts over the past few months," said Martin, later in the video. Really? Maybe Ron Martin even swung by this humble blog in his search for opinions on NETeller. No doubt he was up to speed on the NETeller Customer Coalition, which, assuming its members duly receive its funds, finds itself out of business and reduced to putting out a plug for the PPA.

The only nagging little debate point left was the release NETeller hoped that each of its one-time U.S. customers would agree to upon making their withdrawal requests and departing. The release was a trade in indemnity, for those that chose to accept it; NETeller agreed not to sue any people who agreed not to sue them for holding their money for over six months. Some of the people who reported successful withdrawals went ahead and okayed the release, while others chose not to, just because it was indeed NETeller that violated the terms of service of the agreement by freezing the accounts. In both cases, though, the real feelings are unanimous: if the funds are repaid in full, NETeller is free to go away and disappear.

And, maybe, that's what'll happen. NETeller remains active in 160 countries, but the U.S., Canada, and a couple of other countries where it no longer operates represented roughly three-fourths of its business, and the firm no longer has the cachet of trust it once carried. Maybe NETeller can recover. In large part, no one in the U.S. is likely to give a damn, ever again.

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