Why Fifth Third’s Online Banking Application Sucks

Saturday, 30 June 2012

I used to love do­ing my on­line bank­ing through Fifth Third. Their old sys­tem al­lowed me to make prompt pay­ments that were im­me­di­ate­ly re­flect­ed on my bal­ance, so I al­ways knew ex­act­ly how much mon­ey was at my dis­pos­al at any given time. Their newish sys­tem threw all of that out of the win­dow. I’ve nev­er been one to have over­drafts, but since they went through what I’m sure they con­sid­er an up­grade, I end up with one just about every oth­er mon­th. Here’s an ex­am­ple of how the new sys­tem works:

Let’s start with $500 in the ac­count. You get your ca­ble bill for $100, and log on to make the pay­ment. Fifth Third’s sys­tem sched­ules the pay­ment to be made 2 – 3 days af­ter you en­ter it. Your ac­count still shows a bal­ance of $500. The day be­fore the pay­ment is to be made, you de­cide to can­cel the pay­ment and go in to do so. Besides be­ing ridicu­lous­ly hard to find out how to can­cel the pay­ment, when you fi­nal­ly get there, you’re un­able to be­cause ap­par­ent­ly the sys­tem is al­ready pro­cess­ing the trans­ac­tion. The pay­ment does NOT show up on the item­ized pend­ing trans­ac­tions screen, but IS re­flect­ed in the to­tal pend­ing pay­ments line. Your bal­ance still shows as $500. The next day, the day of the pay­ment, the ca­ble pay­ment com­plete­ly dis­ap­pears from your pend­ing trans­ac­tions list, and is list­ed as PAID in the pay­ment ac­tiv­i­ty screen. Your bal­ance re­mains at $500. The day AFTER the pay­ment is made, your bal­ance is up­dat­ed to $400. Fairly com­pli­cat­ed to fol­low along, but not im­pos­si­ble, if you on­ly pay one bill at a time.

Let’s say I have $500 in the ac­count. I get my ca­ble bill and sched­ule the pay­ment. The next day I get my phone bill and sched­ule the pay­ment. The day af­ter I get my elec­tric and gas bills, and sched­ule those pay­ments. Now can you keep track of what’s pend­ing and what your bal­ance is for the stag­gered 2 – 3 day cy­cle it takes to pay each bill? Maybe if you’re a COBOL main­frame.

I know NO ONE who ac­tu­al­ly thinks about their mon­ey in a stag­gered 2 – 3 day pay­ment cy­cle. If I write a check for $100 and give it to a cashier, and they take 2 – 3 days to cash it, I don’t think that I’m still in pos­ses­sion of that $100. As soon as I hand it over, it is mon­ey I no longer have. The Fifth Third user in­ter­face should re­flect this hu­man par­a­digm, not the way the com­put­er process­es trans­ac­tions.

There’s an easy way to fix this, and it’s even a com­pro­mise be­tween the two par­a­digms. It ap­pears that Fifth Third has tried to make it work, but they’re fail­ing there as well. Show the math. The of­fi­cial bal­ance, mi­nus the pend­ing trans­ac­tions equals the avail­able bal­ance. Unfortunately, the sev­er­al dif­fer­ent pend­ing trans­ac­tions screens NEVER agree with each oth­er in re­gard to the math, and don’t give enough de­tail for a hu­man to make sense of what’s go­ing on.

On the Account Activity page you get a lit­tle box that gives your bal­ance as of yesterday’s date; a line for to­tal pend­ing trans­ac­tions, a line for oth­er trans­ac­tions and a line that shows avail­able bal­ance. You can­not click on the pend­ing or oth­er trans­ac­tions lines to see where they are get­ting those num­bers. If you click on the Pending or Other links to get an ex­pla­na­tion, a 404 win­dow pops up.

There is al­so a pend­ing pay­ments screen on the Make Payments page. This page takes your avail­able bal­ance from the first page (the one that you get from sub­tract­ing pend­ing pay­ments) and sub­tracts pend­ing pay­ments from it. It’s al­ways in red for me. The math doesn’t re­mote­ly re­flect the oth­er pend­ing pay­ment screen.

And don’t get me start­ed on the fact that my mort­gage pay­ments (al­so through Fifth Third) don’t even ap­pear as pend­ing trans­ac­tions, the mon­ey just dis­ap­pears and shows up on the item­ized list of post­ed trans­ac­tions. I have to have a re­minder on my Google Calendar so I know when that mon­ey is go­ing to be tak­en out. If you bank with Fifth Third and have your mort­gage through them, you should be able to set up that pay­ment through their on­line sys­tem in­stead of the third par­ty they use.

And that’s just me bitch­ing about the math. The user ex­pe­ri­ence is Byzantine. There are frames with­in frames with­in frames, each with their own scroll bar, some are ver­ti­cal scroll bars, some are hor­i­zon­tal scroll bars. There are fly­outs with­in fly­outs that make me click 3 more times than I should have in or­der to pay a bill, or sched­ule a pay­ment. A pay­ment that can no longer be can­celed does not give a prompt ex­plain­ing why it can’t be can­celed, the op­tion just isn’t there. I don’t need to be able to as­sign a car icon to my car pay­ment, I need to be able to see how much mon­ey I have.

The most im­por­tant thing I’ve learned from work­ing on gov­ern­ment web­sites is that cit­i­zens do not give a shit about how pret­ty or bell&whistly a site is. They want the in­for­ma­tion they’ve come to get, they want to pay their prop­er­ty tax­es with as lit­tle fuss as pos­si­ble, and they want every­thing to be clear and con­cise, so they can go back to watch­ing YouTube ASAP. This same ex­pec­ta­tion ap­plies to bank­ing. Show me my mon­ey and what is be­ing done with it.

This is what I’d like to see at a glance:

What a Balance Summary Should Look Like
Category Details Amount
 Current Balance (629)  $500
 Pending Payments  Cable (pro­cess­ing) (630)  -$100
 Phone (can­cel this pay­ment) (72)  -$75
 Student Loan (can­cel this pay­ment) (man­age recurrence)(7 – 2)  -$80
 ATM Withdrawal (630)  -$320
 Balance After Payments (73)  -$75


Oh, hey, look. I can see that I’m go­ing to be in the red if I don’t can­cel my phone bill pay­ment. I see that I can’t can­cel the ca­ble bill be­cause it’s al­ready be­ing processed. I see the dates that each bill will be paid. I see that the bal­ance af­ter pay­ments is ef­fec­tive through 7 – 3 and I can plan which bills to pay and which to hold un­til next pay­day be­cause I can tell:

  • How much mon­ey I have
  • How much of that has al­ready been as­signed
  • How much is left af­ter

The list of all trans­ac­tions can be on an­oth­er page, the man­age pay­ees sec­tion can be on an­oth­er page, every­thing can be on oth­er pages. I want some­thing that looks like my check­book. I might go back to us­ing my check­book. Buying stamps is cheap­er than pay­ing over­draft fees. Unfortunately there’s no way to get past the wall of ba­sic cus­tomer-ser­vice folks to speak to some­one who might have the pow­er to af­fect how their bank­ing works, so I’m re­duced to writ­ing a bitch­ing weblog post.

The old sys­tem was sim­pler, and sim­pler is bet­ter when deal­ing with your mon­ey day to day. I shouldn’t need to be a CPA to un­der­stand what my bank is do­ing with my mon­ey.


Sunday, 24 June 2012

lateral bone knobbled
ends akimbo space
enough for dog's 
split or shatter
tenon pulled hunger
constructor bearer
pushed weight 
dragged last audacity
aldehydes of sweat
flaring to nosedove 
burst spread eye 
absorbed from the
girded light ray
new last push

mythic stickened daughters
apply arithmetic each
tick flips to new form
the cannon of cellular
the cacophonic
blast torrent
awash awash its
noise unships
slowly into
rank at last
a sense can
a hand exists
to grasp toward
for the first
creation of
mountains formed from
the teat-milk of a
dead world androgyne

the sky wheeled
and now imagined a
purse with one coin
one coin remains
yet one coin
abides watch
wide-eyed but at
some point attention
shifts from coininpurse
to coininhand 

is a glorious traitor
it sneaks between
neurons with its hands
pocketed and no footprints
it isn't wherever attention
is it is the empty space
in the head labeled
wonder it is the fifth
spot at the table it is
the friend who never
returns calls it is
the beam you cannot look
upon the beam you can
look along in
a darkening woodshed
the last light for
blind eyes the 
unmeasurable gap
between order the
primordial reverberation

call it
the space between
call it
call it
call it a
shell game
call it
call it what
you will.

Father’s Day

Sunday, 17 June 2012

I don’t re­al­ly have a con­cep­tion of what Father’s Day is like for dads in two-par­ent homes. By the time I reached the age where I could ef­fec­tive­ly un­der­stand what it might mean to my own fa­ther, he was no longer a part of my life. My son doesn’t know what it means any more than I did at his age. It takes a long time to grow in­to em­pa­thy. I don’t get a lazy day of praise from wife and chil­dren. I don’t sleep in or skip church. I make the boy break­fast, take him to church, help clean up his spills and help him make a store for his cars to shop at. I do all the things a fa­ther does every oth­er day of the year. Basically, the day is just like any oth­er Sunday with my son — for the most part. Maybe it’s like that for all fa­thers, Odin’t know. (My god, I think that’s the worst pun I’ve ever made.)

What’s dif­fer­ent is that I re­flect — and I get a tad de­fen­sive. Most days of the year I don’t think about what peo­ple think about when they see us out and about, but on Father’s Day I kind of as­sume that they’re think­ing “Dude has his son for Father’s Day,” which, in my mind, is short for “un­mar­ried un­in­volved fa­ther spend­ing court-man­dat­ed time with his off­spring.”

Look. I know that’s crazythought. But I’ve heard its echoes from folks I know, who see tons of un­ac­com­pa­nied dads out on Wednesdays (the typ­i­cal week­ly overnight for stan­dard par­ent­ing sched­ule dads), feed­ing their kids at the Hot Dog Diner or the like. I al­ways feel there’s an im­pli­ca­tion that the­se dads are do­ing the min­i­mum, and that when I’m iden­ti­fied as a sin­gle dad, I’m al­so as­sumed to be do­ing the min­i­mum. If there’s one thing that is cer­tain to get me hack­led, it’s be­ing thought of as some­one who doesn’t take re­spon­si­bil­i­ty or do his best. There’s cer­tain­ly still a stig­ma to be­ing a sin­gle par­ent, and I’d ar­gue, the stig­ma is worse for sin­gle dads. There are so many sin­gle dads out there who do the min­i­mum or less, and it re­flects up­on the sin­gle dads who ac­tu­al­ly give a hoot.

It’s al­so a hefty por­tion of per­son­al in­se­cu­ri­ty and a lit­tle resid­u­al shame on my part for be­ing taught that there is some­thing shame­ful about be­ing a sin­gle par­ent.

Out of all of that in­ter­nal­ized roil I sit in a boat above it and re­flect. And I think, for me, Father’s Day is be­com­ing, and like­ly will con­tin­ue to be, an ex­am­i­na­tion of con­science on what it means for me to be a fa­ther. How I’ve been do­ing. How I can be bet­ter.