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 (6-29)  $500
 Pending Payments  Cable (processing) (6-30)  -$100
 Phone (cancel this payment) (7-2)  -$75
 Student Loan (cancel this payment) (manage recurrence)(7-2)  -$80
 ATM Withdrawal (6-30)  -$320
 Balance After Payments (7-3)  -$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.

Integrating A Sweetcron Firehose/Lifestream into WordPress

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Whatever spare spare time I’ve had the last couple of weeks I’ve spent trying to figure out how to make a lifestream page for this site. A lifestream is basically a page that shows as close to everything possible that a particular person has been up to on the internet. A firehose is somewhat similar.

This was tough. I first started out using Yahoo Pipes to create a feed of all my feeds. Yahoo Pipes is pretty cool, but the feed it outputs doesn’t always work and can’t be styled or easily integrated with WordPress. So I looked around a bit, and found Mark Pilgrim’s Firehose. I liked the way it looked, so I found the post explaining how he did it. Unfortunately, he’s much smarter at the internet than I am, and his solution, though it looked promising, was beyond my ken.

My next stop was MetaFilter, since I hang out there frequently and the hive mind knows all. I found a couple of good resources pointing me to other possibilities; namely Sweetcron or reBlog.

I chose sweetcron and got to work. I even found a way to integrate my WordPress theme into a sweetcron theme. This setup process was not easy and hasn’t worked completely. The sweetcron-run firehose uses my WordPress theme brilliantly, but there’s some sort of conflict engendered by the WordPress mod-rewrites in the .htaccess files, which results in the page header always displaying 404 Page Not Found. How to fix this? The aforelinked integration mentioned a few steps to take care of this issue, but in my case they didn’t work.

I dug around in the WordPress forums and found out that Apache’s mod-rewrite in the .htaccess file for WordPress has often caused this error for any non-Wordpress subdirectories on a domain. None of the suggestions mentioned in that thread worked, so I think there’s some sort of conflict between the root-level WordPress .htaccess file and the sweetcron directory .htaccess file. I might be wrong, that sort of thing is out of my depth.

However, apart from the 404 Page Not Found in the page header, the rest of the lifestream/firehose works just fine. If you really want to monitor most of my online activities (and I know there’s at least one person in the County Administration Building who does), this should make it easier for you.

Always happy to help!

New Design

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Well, I’ve got a new design up, finally. Doesn’t look too much different on the face. Most of the changes are behind the scenes, HTML5 and CSS3. If you’ve got the right browser, you might see some cool fonts and other stuff. As usual, it ain’t complete, if I ever get around to it some other coolness might appear.

Well, it figures, some stuff isn’t working correctly that worked just fine on my development box. Switched back to the old design until I can figure it out.

Well, I finally figured out the bugs. @font-face should be working now, I’m using Greyscale and Midiet. The whole design is coded in HTML5, and I was using every CSS3 bell and whistle just for practice but ended up ripping most of them out. I plan on making a few more updates and to conduct an audit of all my posts, to clean them up, but that process will take even longer than it did for me to come up with a new design.

Gill Sans Fatigue

Monday, 1 February 2010

I have Gill Sans fatigue. Its increasing ubiquity might merely be the result of my increasing awareness of various typefaces, confirmation bias, or something else, but everywhere I look, there it is. On all of the Colliers Ostendorf-Morris for-lease signs (and there are a lot of those in downtown Cleveland) on banners advertising luxury lofts, on signs in hallways, on business cards, on the side of commercial vans, on plaques and displays at the Museum of Natural History. Everywhere.

What used to be my favorite font is now played out (or has been and I’m just now noticing). I still like Eric Gill’s work, though. And by work I don’t mean the fact that he slept with his sisters, daughters and family dog. I mean his typefaces, woodblock prints and sculpture.

Cobbler’s Children

Monday, 7 December 2009

Probably the best reason to call for good web standard practices and a consistent and logical approach to building websites is the ease with which such good planning enables future-proofing and upgrading how a site looks. In 2002, when I started this thing, I was blindly moving about using WYSIWYG, thinking I knew what CSS was and how RSS worked. Now that I’ve got my head around that, and know how to build lean, semantic markup, acknowledge the power that tags can have and understand first-hand the importance of accessibility in expanding the web experience, I often want to go back and clean up all the dusty corners of this site, making each post pass all of the various tests that exist to test webpages.

I’ve been, every once in a moment, when I have a moment, been working on a redesign. HTML5 and CSS3, excellent typography and a new iteration of the minimal design aesthetic that’s become the norm here. I’ve been working on it for months, but it is still only barely started. It takes more time to figure out where I left off than it does to make changes and updates to the design. It’s the cobbler’s children.

USNDPC Video

Saturday, 4 April 2009

I took part in my first crowd-sourced viral video campaign [even though I think those words aren’t being used in the correct way] for the U.S. National Design Policy Council. The video is below, but you can follow the rabbit-hole of more information by going here.

The questions participants were asked to answer were:

  1. What role does design play in US economic competitiveness?
  2. What role does design play in the US democratic governance?
  3. In what specific ways, would a national design policy further enable design to play those roles?
  4. What would you pledge to do to help design play that role?

Interviewed by CNN Money

Saturday, 21 March 2009

I was interviewed by CNN Money about the federal stimulus tracking site Recovery.gov. I wrote a more detailed post about it over at The Design State.

I would also like to take this opportunity to state officially, and unequivocally, that I love squirrels.