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.