Over the past few
years, I've been finding myself moving more and more of my life onto
the Web. For instance, I do all my banking online these days. It has
gotten to the point where I write perhaps one paper check per month,
mostly to charity causes. I get many of my credit card statements
and other bills online.
This method worked particularly well during the anthrax scare,
when snail mail was really slow to arrive. Furthermore, the e-mail
notifications that I set up for myself safeguard my credit rating by
reminding me to pay on time.
Don't Bank on
The multibillion-dollar investments that the banking industry has
poured into Web-enabled systems finally are paying off. After a few
years of trial and error, services from the likes of Citibank, MBNA,
American Express and Discover have gotten up to speed.
Others, however, have perhaps had the misfortune of hiring too
many high-school dropouts turned Web developers, who still have no
clue about what they are doing. For many banks, the Web has become a
marketing tool first, with services lagging far behind.
The dark side of this situation is that everything is automated
to a point where no one can really interfere with the way the
systems work. If anything goes wrong, as it occasionally does, a
snowball quickly can turn into an avalanche. Then, you might as well
give up and forget it.
It's Out of
One example of this turned into a personal horror story when I
got a new credit card from Chase Manhattan Bank. As I always do, I
immediately went online and registered my account. What surprised me
from the very beginning was how badly designed the site was, and how
often it had to undergo "scheduled maintenance."
In fact, in order to check my balance, I had to register in one
place and then enter all the same information again for a totally
separate bill payment service. Worse yet, once I was done with both,
I had to copy the payment address manually from the first site to
the second one.
Plus, in a real stroke of idiocy, the second site was not
properly set up to recognize Chase's own credit cards. Therefore,
the company ended up printing out and mailing a payment to itself,
which took much longer than the claimed "two business days to ensure
on-time electronic settlement." Then, Chase decided that I had
defaulted on my payment. Without any advance notice or warning, the
company promptly suspended my account.
I must have talked to at least two dozen people in Chase customer
service, but to no avail. Even after the payment finally reached its
destination a week later, they refused to remove some of the
multiple accumulated charges, penalizing me for what was clearly
their fault in the first place.
I spent hours shouting and cursing at them, but that didn't seem
to help. There was literally nothing that anybody could do about it.
In the end, I realized that their computers simply took on a life of
their own and were well beyond the people's control.
Can't Beat the
All I could do at that point was to stop using the credit card. I
just got fed up with those prerecorded messages promoting Chase's
"free and secure online service" every time I called to complain
Luckily, I have plenty of other credit cards. But this whole
incident left a really bad taste in my mouth. Chase's motto is, "The
right relationship is everything." Perhaps that is precisely why I'm
taking my business elsewhere.
Besides, if anybody was wondering about reports that IT
investments have had a disappointing impact on productivity in the
banking industry, now we know why. Clearly, they were just paying
the big bucks to the wrong people.