In several countries—Britain, say, or Sweden—bank transfers are more or less instant.
The moment your wages leave your employer's bank account, they arrive in your own,
giving you the wherewithal to pay the bills and feed the family. But America is far behind.
Transfers can take days to clear, landing many Americans—chiefly those who can least afford additional expense—
with hefty overdraft fees or pushing them towards payday lenders charging high interest rates.
In an age when millennials can split a drinks tab on their smartphones before leaving the bar, this almost beggars belief.
The Federal Reserve wants to speed things up.
On August 5th it said that it would build a faster-payments system, as central banks have in other countries.
But not, alas, instantly. FedNow, its proposed service, will not start before 2023.
Covering all of America's 10,000 banks and other depository institutions will take even longer.
In fact, America already has a real-time payments system.
The Clearing House (TCH), which is owned by 25 big banks, has been running one since 2017.
Between them, says Steve Ledford of TCH,
the 16 banks that have so far joined the system hold just over half of the accounts from which payments can be made.
TCH is pushing for near ubiquity next year.
So why does the Fed want its own? First, it is not convinced that TCH's system will ever connect to all the country's tiny banks.
Mr Ledford says that TCH's plan is to reach smaller banks through the technology companies that provide their computing systems.
Second, it fears that without competition prices will be too high, quality too low and innovation too slow.
(The TCH has promised not to discriminate against small banks. It charges sending banks a flat 4.5 cents and receiving ones nothing.)