Sunday, March 06, 2005

The World's Local Bank

I have an account with the world's local bank. So does my business partner in the UK. This makes it pretty quick to transfer money between the two accounts (not as quick as it could be, but far quicker than any transfer involving a third-party bank).

I use their internet banking to check my balance before embarrassing myself by trying to withdraw non-existent money. Once I got the hang of it, it was pretty convenient, but a bit messy - the login process would spawn about 3 different browser windows that were only there to perform a bit of code-bashing, but had no actual visible content. Once I'd got the bank to explain to me what my username and password should be it was OK, but never brilliant. The reason they had to explain to me about the username and password was because the documents I had been given called these things by entirely different names, something like PhonePIN and Secret Access Code Whose Revelation Shall Result in Thy Death. Possibly a case of Marketing and IT departments not talking to each other.

Anyhoo, I did give the bank a fairly detailed critique of the user-friendliness-ness of their site, and a bloke did call me to explain they were working on a new version and my comments would be taken into account.

About a week ago, I tried to log on, and was told that a new system was in place, and could I please give the answer to an easy-to-remember question (mother's maiden name, name of favourite pet, nickname at school, etc). I supplied by mother's maiden name and the system rejected it on the grounds that it must be between 8-16 characters. For goodness' sake, my mother's maiden name is 7 letters long. So I must have entered something to bulk it out, but I immediately forgot about it, on the basis that they would never ask me this question again.

Next time I log on, it asks me for my username. I supply this, click OK, and wait a few minutes while the next screen loads. It's asking for my mother's maiden name. Dang, I can't remember what I told them. So I call the bank's call centre (your call is important to us, that's why we're keeping you on hold for 20 minutes), and get them to re-set the question. Back to the lappy I go, and go through the process again and answer a different stupid question.

The next challenge is to enter my password via an on-screen 'virtual keyboard'. Aargh! Numerous mouse-clicks to achieve something that I used to be able to do with my eyes closed.

Having finally logged on, I see that they have tweaked the presentation of the information, and completely removed the one feature that actually used to be useful. The bit that told you whether the cheque you deposited several days ago has cleared and turned into available money. I find that an ATM can give me this information, but the online banking system now only gives 'ledger balance', but not 'available balance'. I am not about to install an ATM in my house!

I had another run-in with the bank a few months ago over their online bill payment system. The idea is wonderful, but the implementation is woeful. Say you want to pay your electricity bill. First of all you have to set up the electricity company as a beneficiary (and this is not an easy thing to do). Then you can make the payment. A day later your electricity is cut off. You call the electricity company, all smug, and say I paid the bill yesterday via the Interweb. Electricity company laughs at your naivete and suggests you call the bank and get them to explain the system to you.

Another call to the people who claim my call is important to them. What about this then? 'Oh, it'll take 3-4 days for the money to get to the electricity company'. What! It seems the system is completely non-electronic. The bank couldn't explain the system in detail, but I reckon it goes like this. You authorise the removal of a certain amount of money from your account. The bank takes the money, and puts it in their overnight high-interest slush fund for a few days. Then they take it out and send a guy on a push-bike to the electricity company's office to pay the money on my behalf. Unbelievable!

I had a good old rant at the bank about this, suggesting that they should state very clearly on this section of the site the fact that it will take 3-4 days for the recipient to actually get the money. They had the temerity to tell me that that information is clearly displayed on the site - it's under a section entitled 'cut-off times'. As if that means anything to a mere mortal like me.