Two bank interface stories

This post is more than 3 years old.

Bank interface story #1:

Got a new debit card for a new checking account.  Sticker on card says "must be activated at an ATM before use."  Went to ATM at bank, inserted card, entered temporary PIN (securely mailed in a separate envelope).  ATM menu came up, one option was "Change PIN."  Entered new PIN.  ATM said "Card is being retained" and ended my session.

What the heck.

Went inside bank, asked teller what's up.  Our conversation, paraphrased:  "You can't change your PIN on the first use."  "But why did it offer me the option, then?"  "I don't know."  "How can I get my card back?" "The person who handles that isn't here today."  "But I'm about to travel and was planning on using it." "There's nothing we can do, come back when the person who handles that is here."

Waited several weeks to let astonishment at poor user interface design subside and to see if the highly digitized and heavily audited banking industry would notice that it had mailed out an ATM card that was promptly retained and consider contacting the owner about it - nothing.

Visited bank again.  Paraphrased: "We can't find your ATM card anywhere - not at the branch where the ATM was, not at any other branch." "So it's lost?" "Yes." "What do I do now."  "Sign here and we'll send you another one."

Interface design and customer service morals:

  1. Unless you are trying to deceive and annoy your users, don't design interfaces that offer options leading to predictable frustration or failure (e.g. a "Change PIN" option that guarantees the card will be retained if selected).
  2. When a user reports a bad interface design, at least pretend that you will try to suggest an improvement to someone who can do something about it.
  3. If you're designing systems that are intended to be secure (e.g. for banks), it might be good to keep track of authentication credentials (e.g. ATM cards) that are retained during their initial activation attempt.

Bank interface story #2:

Decided to make an extra payment toward principal on a loan I'm paying down.  Clearly indicated on payment slip that extra amount was to be applied to loan principal.

Received loan statement indicating extra amount was applied to future monthly interest and escrow payments, not loan principal.  Called bank and explained to customer service rep.  Rep didn't understand concept of paying on principal vs. interest/escrow, had to get supervisor.  Supervisor explained to rep how to make the change, but rep had trouble getting the math right.  Several times.  I walked rep through correct math.  Rep finally thought she had it input correctly.  I asked "will this be retroactively applied to my original payment date so I'm not seen as making a late payment?"  "Oh yes, it will be retroactively applied."

Weeks pass. Got letter and voicemail from bank noting that they hadn't received my loan payment for the previous month and that I was being charged penalties and interest.  Talk of collections and loan defaults if payment not made today.  Called 800 number, their office is closed today.

Really starting to treasure the time I'll get to spend with bank reps sorting this one out.

Customer service morals:

  1. If you let customers specify how they want a payment applied, consider respecting those requests when you process the payment.
  2. If you're hiring people to answer the phone at a loan customer service center, make sure they understand concepts involved in loans and loan payments, and that they're able to perform basic financial math.

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