Banks and users

Bureaucracy in an online world

A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting discussion in Twitter about how a Spanish Government body (AEAT, the equivalent of HRMC in the UK or IRS in the US) was offering different “services” in two different websites.

For those not fluent in Spanish, think of going to one site to read email and going to a different site to write it.

Obviously, the experience was poor and confusing for the user, who doesn’t understand what is the pattern that puts a set of things under one address and a different set under a different one. A typical user approaches government with fear, and when he tries to get his head around the topic and it finds it almost impossible.

I perfectly understand the problem from a user perspective.

I also used to be a civil servant developing digital services. And I know that regulation, department structures, and existing systems sometimes make things difficult. In this specific case, there were different requisites from a regulation perspective for different types of information. Hence the obvious way for a Government body was to separate those services.

This is an example but there are many others (yes, in the UK government too). And it takes some courage, management support, “user-centeredness”, and innovative approaches to fight the obvious way.

What about banking?#

One could be tempted to think it’s a problem with government bureaucracies.

That’s not my experience. Today’s article is about banks.

Imagine you open your bank’s webpage, you go to your current account, and you expect to get all the transactions, but you only get those that have been “settled”. Want to check if that purchase went through? Wait some indeterminate ammount of time.

Or you want to see old transactions. And you discover that something like pagination (don’t even talk about “infinite scroll”) is like rocket science.

You want to see your investments and how are they performing? You click on a link and it opens a new window, with a different site and experience. If you are lucky (i.e. the functionality doesn’t always exist), and you know where to click, it will ONLY take you not less than two/three additional clicks. Two different sites and 4 clicks to get a performance estimation of your investments.

Want to give an order at a price? You’ll discover that “error xxx, please call us at the number YYY” does not happen because of you, but because the specific asset you’re trying to buy cannot be bought at a specific price and must be bought at market price.

Don’t even think what happens if some nasty guy has your name.

And the list goes on and on.

If only was a brick and mortar thing.#

You maybe tempted to think that is something related to old dinosaurs (sorry, I meant established entities).

Well. That’s not the case in my experience. Meet UNO-E, Spanish bank, 100% online, created by BBVA in the late 1990s.

You can’t do everything online. So I was trying to do some face to face interaction. They replied that no face to face: they are 100% online so no offices (fair enough) so I need to …

phone them.

Yes ladies and gentlemen. A pure online bank, created in the late 1990s is pure online if online means … phone.

You should be able to attend me online. My requirement is not something uncommon (later I discovered a form I can send … by post mail!!!). But even for some cases, it will be necessary some interaction. Make a good chat application.

Phone is fine. But it you promise 100% online: fulfill.

Disruption is coming#

I said at the beginning I had worked for government agencies. I’ve also worked for banks and financial institutions. And I know how they work. I know their departments, their massive systems. But the reason for some interaction cannot be old computer systems, or a crapy org chart.

Because, yes financial services face plenty of regulation and it is taking some time. But they are in the process of being disrupted.

Because the disruption won’t come from other banks, even if there are new promising ones coming.

The disruption will come from someone doing things differently. Google or Facebook and others are experimenting with money transfer schemes. Apple’s iPhone and iWatch, and many others are changing the way we pay. Africa’s experience in mobile banking is not expanding as expected, but it is really changing many people’s lives. Not even mentioning cryptocurrencies or P2P lending schemes.

People don’t give a damn about what is a bank. So put the users and their interactions at the core of your business.

Or just wait to disappear.

First published here