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.

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.


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.