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
a tenon pulled hunger
con­struc­tor bearer
pushed weight 
a dragged last au­dac­ity
alde­hy­des of sweat
flar­ing to nose­dove 
a burst spread eye 
ab­sorbed from the
girded light ray
a 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.