Bank of America: A Critical Evaluation


For many of the bills that one would pay through the Banking Center, the funds are deducted from your account on the day they were set up to be paid (that is, if you set up the payment a week or so in advance). However, many bills, and of course all checks to individuals, sent out through the Banking Center will not be deducted from the account until the payee has presented the check to the bank.

Upon setting up a series of checks to be sent out, they are all listed in the left-hand column of the page as being scheduled. Conveniently, the sum of the various checks is also presented. On the day the checks are sent—the pay-by date—these checks continue to be present on the left hand column with the status “Sent Today,” assuring you the checks are in the mail.

However, a day later, all of these sent checks disappear from the main page. You can see, by scrolling down the page and looking at individual accounts, that they have indeed been sent (or “processed,” an inexact term as it suggests a completed transaction). This is an easy bit of information to present—checks that have been “processed” but not presented—but the BoA site decides to avoid it.

To determine which checks have been sent and presented, one has to move back and forth between these two pages and match up the sent checks with those presented. If the check has not been presented, there is no way to know what is happening with the check. There is no easily available piece of information on pending checks paid through online banking (of course, checks paid in paper would not appear there, though a space to input this information would surely be useful), as there is for pending debit card purchases, or holds (both pieces of information, consequently, are themselves presented on different pages).

This is, one supposes, one of the primary reasons that Clarity Statement asks you to keep a personal register. If you—like I do—send out fifteen checks or so on the first of the month or on payday, and a few thereafter, it is impossible to remember which company has presented their checks even if (or mostly if) the majority show up in the Accounts Detail page.

What happens—and this is what happened to me [endnote 19]—is that a check will be presented some weeks after it has been sent, and you will have forgotten about it, or have been unaware of it not having been presented entirely, and it will be presented against insufficient funds.

Reviewing these payments in the screen attached to the individual payee will show that the checks have both been processed on the day they were assigned. I discovered, after clicking around a bit, that the “View payment” link next to an individual check—which takes you to the page which the above tutorial suggested was only useful for making or changing a value—has a single line of text different between similar pages for presented and checks not yet presented. Presented checks have a sentence stating “Funds were withdrawn from your MYCHECKING account on [the date].” Pages for checks not presented state: “Funds for this payment are withdrawn from your account when the Pay To account cashes the check.” The difference between these two pages is just these two phrases.

This is the only place on the entire website where information about unpresented checks exists, despite the value of this information—along the lines of holds and pending debit card purchases. Considering that checks are often written in large sums—one doesn’t write a check to buy a can of coke—the check is most likely to be deducted from the account first, which then triggers a series of overdraft charges.

Worse, those of us who are hitting the end of our available balance tend to buy a lot of little things to avoid having an overdraft—buying, then checking to see if the recent small purchase has been reflected on the site. Hence, a series of overdrafts will be triggered after the first big check came in. (My own example is having a check for $140 to a doctor I sent in my previous state not be presented for a few weeks. I was hitting the end of my pay period and so was making small careful purchases. The result was 4 overdraft fees on one day, and 2 on the next!)

Why BoA does not provide this useful information—as easily as it is provided on other online banking sites—is an open question. I suspect that the income brought in by this frequent occurrence—which is never addressed in the fluffy tutorials and InfoCenters on the site—is useful for the bank’s budget.

As for “alerts” set up for when your balance is getting low, they are useless for those of us who check the site obsessively [endnote 20] and know quite well when our accounts are low, and also useless as they don’t consider holds and unpresented checks [endnote 21].

Even worse, in my many calls and to the bank’s customer service, none of the representatives were able to provide me with this information. Finally, I got one person on a chat session who showed me where this was, but as you can see below, it was after he had to check with his boss or some other references—that “hello?” was for when I thought I’d lost him. And, in fact, his first answer was the answer I often got over the phone, which is that you don’t know about these checks until they are presented. I asked him the same question, but in different words, to get the final answer:

You: I have a question: if I send out a check through Bill Pay but it hasn’t yet been presented at the bank, is there anywhere on the website where I can find out the status of that check. Does it show up as “pending” on my account?

S: The draft checks we mail to the pay to account will only show reflected on the account once the pay to account has cashed or presented the check for payment.

You: Ok, so say I mail out the check on the first of the month (along with 14 other check I send out through bill pay on the first of the month), how do I find out whether or not that particular check as been presented?

You: Is there any screen where that check, and not the 13 other checks, is singled out as not having been presented? I ask because I’ve gotten in trouble with this.

You: Hello?

S: I see. The check numbers for each of the payments is listed in the Payment Details screen and can verify if the payment is posted against the account with the check number.

You: So I have to click through to the View Payment for each check to find out?

S: To verify each payment is cashed, yes you have to click through the payment in question.

Well, I don’t want to be too hard on the guy—there was probably just some miscommunication here, though it took him a long time to parse my sentence—but this is certainly information I never got on the phone. And this chat session illustrates a pretty frank admission to the difficulty and tedium involved in following through on every check in Bank of American Online Banking.

Note:
This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.

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The one page that most BoA banking center people are going to use is the Account Activity page. This has a list of transactions and a number called the “Available Balance.” As you may have gathered by reading this so far, the “Available Balance” does not reflect purchases made with a debit card that were signed for (I learned this little detail by pestering a phone representative, not through my pouring through the website), holds or, of course, pending checks.

(In the old days, I remember that all checks sent through Bill Pay were deducted from Available Balance immediately upon being sent even if not presented, which I much preferred. I don’t think there is an option to switch that on with the bank.)

There is a small link in the upper left corner of the page called “Available Balance History.” On this page is another set of transactions that appears quite similar to the first page, but with two columns of figures, each of which is topped by different numbers. One number is your account without holds, one with—but neither of them is the actual “available balance.” At least, in my experience, neither of these numbers always matches up with the “available balance.”

Occasionally, I have had this number be larger than my available balance, and occasionally smaller. And despite the fact that it is called a “history,” it is in fact often more current than the information on the Available Balance page of the site. It’s not presented as the go-to page for information on the site, but rather as a way to gaze on the past—but if you make a lot of purchases for which the company has put a hold on a sum of money from your account, you won’t see any note of it on the Available Balance page. It will show up here.

There is another section of the site that appears to combine this information called My Portfolio, but I don’t know how to use it. I assumed it was for people who had investments, stocks, property, etc.—hence the term “Portfolio”—and not for poor writers like me who don’t own anything and never use the term “portfolio” in relation to money.

However, on glancing at it, I notice that it presented yet another image of how much I was worth. Here is the breakdown:

  • Account Details—checking: $136.77
  • Account Details—saving: $7.5
  • Account Balance History w holds: $111.78
  • Account Balance History w/out holds: $111.78
  • My Portfolio: -$104.19
  • Accounts Page: $0 (but this is obviously not true)

If you add the two figures from Account Details, $7.59 to the -$136.77, you would get -$129.18, yet another number.

The My Portfolio number comes from adding the small amount of money I have in my savings to the number on the Account Balance History page (both being the same this time, I don’t know which exactly). So, with all of these numbers flying around—it seems the My Portfolio figure is the most accurate, if still off considering the disappeared pending checks—maintaining a sense of your balance when you are getting very low is difficult, if not impossible.

It should be noted that, in all of my transactions with customer service through the phone and in chat, none of them have suggested I activate My Portfolio. (I confirmed this once again, in my final chat session, below.) The lead page for My Portfolio when it is not activated suggests that it is only of use to people with stocks and investments, which is why, until I started researching this paper, I never set it up [endnote 22].

Consequently, the Available Balance History is geared more toward letting you know what went wrong—i.e. arguments in favor of the bank when you are on the phone with customer service. Visual information on what the user was seeing on the day he or she made the bad transaction is not available, and is entirely masked by this screen.

Of course, this is the way it is with most websites, though sites like Facebook let you look back at the history of what you have done exactly as it looked when any transaction was made. This feature—while admittedly hard to implement—would be good for presenting cases by customers, not to mention as a way to educate the customer in what went wrong [endnote 23]. The only way to keep a record of what it was you were looking at on the day of the bad transaction is to do a screen capture.

Note:
This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.

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Every U.S. Citizen pays $126 per year in overdraft fees. Following are a sketch of how I’ve come to this conclusion and its repercussions for how we feel as citizens and who, indeed, is providing the governance in this country.

U.S. banks will gather record of $38.5 billion in overdraft fees [endnote 24]
http://money.cnn.com/2009/08/10/news/companies/bank_overdraft_fees_Moebs/index.htm

Population of the United States: 304,059,724
http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=uspopulation&met=population&tdim=true&q=population+of+united+states

This amounts to $126 per person in the United States per year in overdraft fees.

Subrtract the population that makes $100,000 or more (15.7 percent of U.S. households in 2005):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States

That amounts to $145 per person in overdraft fees per year for someone middle-class or below.

That’s an average of 4.1 overdrafts per person a year. Most of us with decent jobs [endnote 25] are not making 4 overdrafts per year—so who is?

(Here’s one answer: “Overdraft fees affect student finances”
http://www.kansan.com/news/2009/dec/10/overdraft-fees-affect-student-finances/

Here’s another: “FDIC: Bank overdraft fees hit young, low-income customers”
http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/banking/2008-12-02-fdic-study-overdraft-fees_N.htm)

These are figures entirely for debit cards fees. They don’t include other banking fees or fees collected for credit card transactions.

They are fees for purchases ranging from a single bottle of coke to a few books to a night at a restaurant. One doesn’t get a $35 for going over in buying a flat-screen TV. If you get it for spending $1,000 at Saks, I don’t think it’s that much of a biggee.

An overdraft “fee” is essentially a penalty—banks never tell you exactly where these fees are going, and what harm your overdrafts are actually doing to the bank, so they behave more like parking tickets than service charges. That is, overdraft fees are more like penalties from the government than from a service provider.

Debit cards are regarded more like credit cards than as easy access to funds you deposited in a bank. That is, they are treated by the banks as money that has been leant to you, and that you have not paid back in a timely fashion. But whereas you are given several weeks to pay back your credit card, you are charged immediately for overdrafts, with no basis to contest a “fee.”

This effectively amounts to the criminalization of every citizen in the United States who uses a debit card. This is basically everyone.

Debit cards, along with online banking, are interfaces. They are ways to manipulate data (behind which most of think is something “concrete”—that is, money).

All of the major banks are moving in synch in terms of the amount of overcharge fees they charge ($35), and even in terms of when they make policy changes (three of the major banks announced changed policies in in September, 2009).

This effectively amounts to a monopoly, and should be subject to the anti-monopoly laws that Microsoft was subjected to regarding their operating system [endnote 26].

But bank monopoly is worse since, after all, Apple was able to provide significant competition to Microsoft during their more dominant years, and independent programmers were able to develop Linux which could have stepped in if things got really bad. With changing technology (such as the rise of Google and increased reliance on the web and smart phones), Windows was (or will be) destined to be an option among many anyway.

Under present conditions, with involuntary reliance on debit cards, no competition can arise against the four major banks. I can open a bank, but I can’t open an ATM (an extension of the interface) on every other street corner.

The amount of money that is circulating to the four major banks through penalties dwarfs the amount of money attached to causes that drive people to referendums, protests and renegade political campaigns [endnote 27]. This implicates politics itself as largely ignoring the major foci of the circulation of money.

People with a desire to control where their tax money is spent are largely arguing over peanuts as far more of their money is circulating in ways that do them no social services at all, not to mention the basic function of easing money transactions.

Note:
This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.

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The extent to which the public relations and advertising departments exercise their influence is visible in the number of “reviews” of their online banking services that appear on the web and the way these reviews echo the promotional material of their relative banks.

None of the websites that review online banking ever perform their tasks with the sort of diligence with which even a second-tier electronics or computer site would do it, not to mention music and movie review sites. But whereas a bad decision on a movie could cost about $15, and a bad decision about electronics will probably just get you an item that is marginally less useful than another brand’s competing product, a poor choice in an Online Banking site could cost you several hundred dollars over the course of several years.

How many people read these reviews? Probably few, since the public knowledge of the importance of good software for managing their account is very low. Most people assume (as they do with computers that are pre-installed with Windows) that they are pretty much stuck with the interface and system a bank has provided. And of course, they are.

None of the reviews sites that I’ve visited perform serious evaluations of the services from the perspective of a user. I don’t, for instance, see information on how easily or accurately these sites represent active transactions—holds, pending checks, etc. They all assume that the sites are quite easy to learn for a user without a manual, and don’t evaluate the educational or cautionary materials on the site. They assume a sophisticated user, and obviously one with a substantial amount of income, whose balance never sinks below $150.

I was actually afraid I’d have to do a lot of reading for this part of the report. In fact, the amount of writing is pitifully small. Here are brief evaluations of the reviews I’ve seen online:

Consumer Search—”Online Banking: Reviews”

http://www.consumersearch.com/online-banking

This site decided that the Bank of America’s Online Banking service was the best. They expend one paragraph on describing why this is so; no other bank appears to have been evaluated (i.e. there is no second place), and no criteria are provided. They sum up their meager arguments with the following bullet points, most of which have nothing to do with the banking center software itself:

Pros
• High customer satisfaction
• No fee for over 18,000 ATMs
• Free online checking, no minimum balance
• Free online money-management software

Cons
• Phone support not 24/7
• Fees for using other banks’ ATMs
• No interest on checking
• Low interest on savings

How is “high customer satisfaction”“ a feature of a site? That’s like saying someone is a good athlete because of his press. What do ATMS have to do with the online website? The freebees also have nothing to do with functionality (and free online checking sounds like a siren song to pull you into their system of overdraft fees, since it’s only those of modest income who could care for a checking fee.)

With the exception of phone and chat room support—which itself is largely superficial—none of the cons have anything to do with the functionality of the site. This is pabulum.

Forbes Reviews—“Website Reviews: Banking”

http://www.forbes.com/bow/b2c/category.jhtml?id=3

Bank of America

With the merger of Bank of America and Fleet, customers have learned the hard way about incompatibility. The two online banking systems cannot communicate with each other. All new customers sign up with what was formerly FleetHomelink, but with some of the added heft of the merged banking powerhouse. Chief among the merged-bank perks: more than 16,000 ATMs within the Bank of America system means you should rarely pay a fee. Other pluses: Checking is free with direct deposit, otherwise $6 per month, and there’s no minimum balance requirement. Online bill paying is free with checking and you can get account balances and information up to the last 18 months activity.

BEST: Large network of free ATMs.

WORST: The account aggregator is for Bank of America accounts only.

This is the entirety of the review from this prestigious magazine, in a section called “Website Reviews.” They attempt to provide the sheen of substance by reviewing an additional 17 banking sites, but none are granted more than a paragraph of attention.

Once again, the number of ATMs is somehow noted as a feature of the banking site. A large part of the paragraph is devoted to the ephemeral problems associated with a merger. And this review only has two bullet points!

Star Reviews—“Online Banking Website Reviews”

http://www.starreviews.com/bank-of-america.aspx

This site does note that the Bank of America website is pretty complex, but the review is largely fluff, and actually starts with advertising BoA’s ridiculous “keep the change” feature [endnote 28] which allows you to accrue a few dollars here or there over the course of a few months.

And they do talk a bit about the interactivity on the site:

Our first impression when hitting the Bank of America landing page was, “Where in the world do we start?” There’s just so much there. Yes, the website is broken down into sections, but for some reason that’s not completely apparent at first and you get an initial feeling of being overwhelmed.

Once you have time to brace yourself and actually take in the entire Bank of America home page, it’s not hard to find what you’re looking for. Links for checking accounts, credit cards, savings accounts, CDs, mortgages, home equity loans and more are all available from the landing page.

When you click on the links you’re interested in, you may find a slight delay in being taken to the actual product you want to read about. The pages on the Bank of America website, while easy to navigate, did load rather slowly. This is a considerable problem when looking at numerous products and services (as each one has main categories and then subcategories for each specific product offered).

Speaking of overwhelming—the sheer volume of products and services offered by Bank of America is enough to drive anyone to the edge. Researching checking accounts alone, you’ll find there are five different kinds to choose from. And credit cards? There’s more than 400 of those to look at.

This last paragraph gives it away—it spins the idea that the website is complex into an endorsement of the apparent magninimity of the site. The piece ends with bullet points again—one each for pro and con: “Upside: Wide variety of products and services, reasonable fees, unique programs. Downside: A bit overwhelming.”

This site does review six other banking sites altogether, but with no real purpose—most of the material is clearly lifted from the promotional material. If this type of reviewing were to occur in the book publishing or film industry, it would be scandalous, not to mention cause for legal action.

MSN Money—“The top 10 online banks”

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Banking/BetterBanking/TheTop10OnlineBanks.aspx

This site doesn’t provide reviews of individual sites but does offer a table at the bottom that compares features among 10 banking sites.

One paragraph in the story—which is otherwise explaining some of the language and practices they used in the review—does put the top three banks up against each other, and gives you a sense of the criteria governing their judgments:

“Wells Fargo is ranked first, in part because of its Quicken-style tools for viewing your spending habits. Then again, second-place Citibank is better than Wells or third-place Bank of America at “money movement”—the ability to funnel funds to another account, user or bank. Fourth-place E*Trade Bank provides excellent alerts (such as letting you know when your balance is low), but it doesn’t allow you to stop payments on checks. Reverse that for fifth-place Huntington: no low-balance alerts, but it will let you stop payments. E*Trade also does an excellent job integrating its online banking and brokerage services.”

This page is titled “The Basics” and is, in its way, the least pretentious and most helpful of the review sites I’ve remarked upon here. Most of the story is geared toward helping you develop some basic analytical skills when looking at sites, though, again, none of this is concerned with the nature of the data presentation. The mention of “Quicken-style tools” is unique, as it does show the relationship of the a piece of commercial software and what is commonly thought of as a website—but is in fact a piece of software—the Bank of America Online Banking center.

None of these review sites do what most other review sites do: imagine a plethora of types of people who are using the service—ranging from the occasional user to the “power user”—nor do they provide any more detail than might be able to be gleaned in a brief visit to the site. It doesn’t appear, for instance, that any of the reviewers actually started an account with the respective banks and used them over a course of a few months, nor did they petition the opinions of users of the sites.

These reviews are largely an extensions of “InfoCenter”-style information, but provided under the aegis of objectivity, and like all reviews that are published under false pretenses, are essentially—think of the abuses of the Hearst era, when one man owned all the major papers—subject to prosecution, if not by the law, then the media.

Note:
This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.

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Bank of America Online Banking is a complex tool, on a par with a piece of financial software that one can purchase such as Quicken. However, there is no guidebook available online on how to use it, nor are there tutorials that are created for anyone with more than a basic knowledge of the site.

With all of the investment that is being made into the promotional material on the site and the rather advertisement-oriented InfoCenter—which gives the sheen of presenting the entire story, and which is mostly redundant for many users—one can only conclude that the Bank of America, with its high reliance on penalty fees for its income (probably the first time in its history that it made such a large sum of money from the lower and lower-middle classes) is purposeful in this exclusion.

The software doesn’t do what it says it is doing. Granted, there can’t be an exact corollary between the information on the site and what is in the database on a moment-to-moment basis (quite often, oddly, the user is looking at info that customer service can’t see yet, which makes resolving issues in a timely manner impossible [endnote 29]), but the information that is available on the site should be consistent with itself—across several screens, such as the Accounts Details, Available Balance History and My Portfolio—and synthesized if the idea of “ease” is to be attached to online banking.

This product, which is a very inexact impression of the activity of your virtual purchases, never contradicts the impression that it provides an omniscient view of your transactions.

Worse, in times of heavy purchases—right after a paycheck, for example, when a number of checks will be sent out, and when a consumer is likely to be more lax in their “surplus” spending, and so might have a dinner out with a friend—the website is least accurate as to what you have spent. In fact, it seems to go into a hysterical, aphasic mode, in which all sorts of important details simply disappear until you have stopped any significant spending.

My analogy, here, is to a gunfight. When there are several participants involved, you are never sure of who has been struck, who is still standing, and who is aiming at whom. One waits until the “dust has settled” before venturing to walk the street. This is what happens during the most volatile moments of spending by the average consumer—a complete loss of orientation until all of the checks have come in, the holds settled, the signed debit purchases submitted. Despite information about all of these transactions being available to the site, they are never tallied against the “Available Balance” until the end.

Am I asking the website to see the future? Yes, in that the data concerning all of these transactions, along with the policies of when these transactions are debited from the account, are present in the database. All of these figures—what is outstanding of checks sent through Billy Pay (and written, if the site allows you to input it), holds, debit transactions and the order in which these debits will occur—are logged somewhere in the database of Bank of America, but it chooses to keep this information from you until it appears on the Accounts Details page.

Failures in web design and functionality of the Bank of America website cost modest-income consumers billions of dollars each year—that’s millions of consumers! Bank of America doesn’t demonstrate that they take this issue seriously enough when improvements to the site seem geared toward adding silly Flash tutorials, or geared toward richer people with a larger number of investments.

The expectation with online services today, as with most commercial computer applications, and especially among younger and “power” users, is comprehensive knowledge of what your interactions and their effects, that is, information that is accurate to the moment, and even—if its available—the future moment. If there is something in the database that can provide the user foresight, it should be readily available. Where the Bank of American website deviates from this—because of the insuperable limitations on the software—it should be clearly, and loudly, stated.

The BoA won’t do this because it will make its product—Bank of America Online Banking—appear flawed, and yet most products that can do harm to an individual based on their use or functionality—an insulin pump [endnote 30], cooking appliances, even (grudgingly) cigarettes—are not afraid to sound alarms for users (as opposed to placating them with testaments to their “ease” of use) even in the active moment of using them.

The expectations with online web services—especially with younger people with lots of computer experience—is a conglomeration of facts and numbers, and placing relevant facts in apposition to each other for easy “browsing,” if not deeper analysis.

This problem will be aggravated with mobile phone users unless it is emphasized that the website has more complete information (and it tells them where this information is). If the information is off, or incomplete, even by a small margin, it makes a great deal of trouble for those of us who, on a normal day, can make twenty or so transactions with a single debit card, the irony being that, when we have less, we are buying smaller things, raising the number of possible overdraft fees.

While some of the changes that have been made in the policies have been good for publicity, they don’t really help at all for those who are: poor and often operating with under $100 in the bank; not well-educated or able to deal with figures (and who should probably just stick to cash, though that is not an option); or those who work freelance and hence go boom-to-bust (especially, as in my case in this instance, right after Christmas), and are dealing with sending and receiving payments to companies that (for example) will never become part of the much-vaunted e-Bills system, which advertises an even speedier deduction from your account. It is these people who will pay the majority of the overdraft fees, not the rich who deposit and spend larger sums of money at a time and who won’t be bothered by a $35 fee.

The larger philosophical and economic conundrum—certainly transcending the present concern with the BoA website—is the blurring of the boundaries between a “credit” card and a “debit” card:

  • Why are users penalized for an overcharge on a debit card on a daily basis, whereas overdrafts on a credit card are not reflected until the end of the month?
  • Why does “overdraft protection” when it relies on a credit card operate along completely different rules than with a proper credit card?
  • Why does good behavior with a credit card reflect positively on a credit report—which, as I write earlier, is a supra-governmental measure of your relative worth within society, like a prison record—and yet good behavior with a debit card is not rewarded?
  • How are differences in these two relative fields of virtual transaction reflected in the rate of penalties—which suggests that mismanagement of a debit card is more harmful to a bank than mismanagement of a credit card?

Consumer debit cards and checking accounts are, in even the most superficial of analysis, far less of a danger to the operation of a bank than credit transactions—after all, the present recession was brought on by mismanagement of mortgages, a form of credit. It was also brought on by “predatory practices” in terms of acquiring new customers, but surely, given the amount of deception inherent in online banking advertisements—most peculiarly that of Bank of America—such predatory practices have migrated from the mail to the web screen, and from the deceptive practices of prose and graphics to the more compelling rhetoric of software, interactive demos, talking Flash ladies, and bogus search engines.

It must be made to clear to banks that online banking centers are, like all computer interfaces, a form of rhetoric. They provide arguments with the nuances of their graphics, the placement of their hyperlinks and the text used in them, the various Flash animations and help files and FAQs, as well as the entire impression a single page can give of providing a comprehensive, bird’s eye view of your account.

Online banking replaces the teller in our interactions with banks—that individual who could, like a doctor, be trusted to offer cautions should your bank account appear to be heading in the wrong direction, and from whom you could get immediate, humanly understandable answers.

If a teller, upon pulling up the information about your account, were aware of such matters as pending checks, holds and debit transactions that were signed rather than enacted with a PIN—all information that is present in the bank’s database—but failed to tell you about them when you were dealing with him or her, you would think it strange, if not outright deceptive. If a teller gave you three different figures that each reflected some view of your “available balance” but then asked you to take out a calculator right there in the bank to determine their relations to each other (and without providing you with a substantial description of what the figures meant), you would be baffled.

The one time my fee was waived, it was done so under the guise of “stuff happens”—as if, after a simple lesson, one would never make that mistake again. But I, personally, have made several different kinds of mistakes [endnote 31] with this website—rarely the same one twice—and they have cost me dearly. This isn’t due to the complexity of banking in general—in the days of cash and checks, one could not make so many virtual transactions in a day, and could not be misled by a complex screen of information—but to the failures, in conjunction with the ubiquity of debit card purchases, of Online Banking sites such as that of the Bank of America.

Note:
This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.

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Following are several images illustrating the points above. I’ve chosen not to include helpful arrows or highlights to give the viewer a sense of how the information is organized graphically.
These were all captured on a weekend in which several overdraft fees were visible in my account, and yet when the damaging check had not been fully processed—a rare occurrence for highlighting these contradictions in the site before the “smoke settled” and they entirely disappeared.

Click to enlarge
________________________________________

InfoCenter Page with dropdown (only half of the list of subjects is visible)—all of the information from these PDFs could have fit on a page:

InfoCenter Page with “hold” as search item:

InfoCenter page with “overdraft” as search item—I couldn’t even complete word:



Payment Detail for check that has been presented:

Payment Detail for check that has not been presented—the difference of a few words in tiny print:

Checking Account Details with Available Balance History Link—note balance figure:

Available Balance History (header excluded)—very different presentation, different balance figure:

My Portfolio prior to joining—“Your financial life on autopilot,” in huge emphatic letters encouraging you to be less vigilant:

“Janet” the Flash lady in the InfoCenter—she starts talking as soon as the webpage loads:



“Janet” answering pseudo questions in a very highly-designed interactive Flash app. I was sent to this page by a customer service representative to get more details on my questions:

Format of the “Top 10 FAQs” page with rudimentary graphics and navigation:



My InfoCenter—like all “my” style websites suggesting you can limit a huge wealth of information to a personal, easily referenced page—but, in fact, you have about 40 pages of info to collect:

Here’s another Flash lady I discovered late in the completion of this report. You can find her on Google by searching “Bank of America Online Banking,” and clicking on “Online Banking User Guide.” She doesn’t give her name. As you can imagine, this is anything but a guide:

First page of the Clarity Statement—“We encourage you to record all of your transactions in a check register.” This would include, one imagines, every can of coke, pack of gum, etc:

The second page of “Clarity Statement” states that you cannot be charged more than 4 times a day. Of course, you can be charged another 4 times the next day—a cosmetic update:

Understanding Fees page with “Clarity Statement” link at the bottom. Tellingly, in the chat session that is transcribed below, the customer service represented, upon being petitioned, wrote: “I can assure you there is no such statement.” It’s buried so deep in the site that even the employees of don’t know about it. The website designer doesn’t, either—it is listed as providing “more detailed information about the account,” when it’s purpose was the opposite. Note the lack of glosses on any of this link—the user has no idea where he/she is going:



Search results for “My Portfolio”—largely further promotions of the product:

Search results for “cascade”—a word that many users of Bank of America Online Banking know, but which is not a part of the BoA lexicon:

Tiny search box on standard BoA online banking page—much smaller type, no clear endorsement like “become all-knowing,” crowded out by competing graphics:

The “Review Payments” tutorial from the InfoCenter—no mention made of the variations in amount of time before checks are presented:

Second page of tutorial—note how speech box for the “save changes” button informs you that you should use it to “save changes”:



Page three of the “Review Payments” tutorial. We’re back at number one with no transition. We’re told to click the “delete” button to “delete” a payee:  

Page four of the tutorial—one final piece of redundant information:

The new Bank of America Online Banking software for mobile phones—this isn’t software? iPhone users can get this through the iStore:

Page from Edward Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint outlining some of his arguments about the Space Shuttle disaster in 1986. [endnote 32]

Images of books that provide detailed information on much simpler software. Why has there been no book on Online Banking published since 1999?

Note:
This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.

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Following are some individuals to contact within the Bank of America to escalate a contended fee. Note that, in my last chat session with the company, none of these names were brought forward as people I could contact. This information is courtesy of The Consumerist website, and is current as of October 7, 2008 [endnote 33]:

Call Executive Customer Relations:

Executive Customer Relations general line: 704-386-5687

Martha Dominguez, Executive Customer Relations Specialist: 714-792-4264

E-mail the BofA Customer Advocate:

Nancy M. Condos: nancy.m.condos@bankofamerica.comail

VP/ Customer Advocate

Executive Customer Relations

Office of the Chairman

Or try the CEO:

Kenneth Lewis, CEO: Ken.d.lewis@bankofamerica.com

100 N. Tryon Street.

Mail Code NC-1-007-18-01

Charlotte, NC 28255

[Note: the information above is a bit outdated; visit the following page to get the latest information: http://newsroom.bankofamerica.com/index.php?s=20]

Consequently, I had no knowledge of the Bank of America Overdraft Fee Class Action Settlement [endnote 34], but it seems like it’s time to get beyond these one-off settlements and push for some real, rather than cosmetic, change in policies.

Another tactic that seems to have had some success, though I doubt very much, is the Executive Email Carpet Bomb, described on The Consumerist thus:

Here’s a classic tactic for rattling the corporate monkey tree to make sure your complaint gets shoved under the nose of someone with decision-making powers. Let’s call it the “EECB,” or Executive Email Carpet Bomb…

1. Exhaust normal channels.

Have you called customer service? Asked for a supervisor? Hung up and tried again? Give regular customer service a chance to fix the problem before you go nuclear.

2. Write a really good complaint letter.

Be clear, concise, polite, and professional. State exactly what you want. See this post for complaint letter writing tips. Pitch your issue in a way that affects their bottom line. Spellcheck and include contact information.

3. Determine the corporate email address format.

Look through their website or Google for press releases. Examine the PR flack’s email address. What’s the format? Is it firstname.lastname@company.com? FirstletteroffirstnameLastname@companyname.com? Figure it out and write it down.

4. Compile a list of the company’s top executives.

This is often available on the company website, under sections like “corporate officers” or “corporate governance.” You can also look the company up on Google Finance and look under management, although this list tends to only be partial.

5. Combine the names from step 4 with the format from step 3 to create an email list

6. Send your complaint to the list from step 5.

7. Sit back and wait.

Reader Marc has launched EECBs to great effect. He writes, “In every instance that I’ve put together a big list of email addresses and sent it out, I’ve received some sort of immediate reply and eventual resolution.”

You could also make a movie about your overdrafts, but this could linger in limbo for quite some time.

After his bank charged $140 in overdraft fees for four purchases totaling $60, Karney Hatch decided to warn other debit cardholders. That was how he came to make a 74-minute movie called Overdrawn!, reputedly the first documentary to deal with debit card overdraft charges. The movie, which does not have a distributor, is intended to raise consumer awareness of banking fees and regulations, says Hatch, the films co-producer, writer and director. (http://www.overdrawnmovie.net/).

I haven’t seen this one, but if it’s anything more than amateurish and channels some of that Michael Moore genius for setting up corporate representatives for illustrative humiliations, I’d bet its worth watching.

Note:
This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.

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Following is a transcription of a chat session with Bank of America which outlines an attempt to have my fees reversed. Of course, I didn’t expect this to happen, though they did offer to refund $35 in fees.

What is most telling is how the customer service representative—both the front-line person and the specialist behind the lines—were not able to answer basic questions about the Clarity Statement, My Portfolio, the reason behind overcharge fees, the availibility of tutorials, how various screens on the site were interrelated, why certain monetary figures that could lead to overdraft charges appeared on different pages of the site, etc.

I have a hard time telling when I am speaking to an automated figure—the cut-and-paste element lends itself to that—or to a person. Especially annoying was when I was sent a link to a page I had already visited several times—or worse, to Janet!

This chat occurred on Tuesday, January 12, 2010, between the time of 5:45—7:20. I advise that all people filing complaints or attempting to appeal a charge do it through chat—and cut-and-page frequently during the chat—to have a record of your interactions with customer service.

I was going to keep the names of the representatives (which aren’t real, anyway) in this transcription, but changed my mind as I had told the guy, at the end, that I wouldn’t, and so am keeping my word.

Current Transcript of the Chat Session

Thank you for choosing Bank of America. You are now being connected to a Bank of America Online Banking Specialist.

E: Hello! Thank you for being a valued Bank of America customer! My name is E.

E: May I please have your complete name and last four digits of your account?

You: Brian Stefans—

You: ****

E: Thank you, Brian.

E: Welcome to Online Chat. How are you doing today?

You: Ok, but my account is -$277.

E: I understand your concern regarding the overdrawn account.

You: What can I do to reverse some of these charges. I don’t have enough cash to bring the account into a positive balance, which means I will start to accrue more penalties over the next week.

E: I do realize that you wish to refund some of the fees.

E: I will certainly check that for you right away.

E: Please give me a moment while I check the details for you.

You: Ok.

E: As you are our valued customer and do not want you to have bad experience with us as your satisfaction is of high priority for me!

E: I am able to refund you with fee of $35.00.

E: Please do trust me as I need to go beyond my limitations to get this refund for you.

E: Would you like me to process this for you?

You: That really won’t help much. Why do you need to go beyond your limitations? What are your limitations? [endnote 35]

E: I would like to let you know that we will be able to refund the fees only if it is a bank error.

E: As it is not a bank error, we are unable to refund fees.

You: This is my story. I am a teacher with a research fund, but the way that it works is that I purchase things with my own cash and get reimbursed about a week later. However, because of the holiday, they didn’t process my purchases, and after the holidays ended, they had a backlog which held the check up further. Meanwhile, I have a roommate (actually, my sister) who has been out of work for several months. For some reason unemployment decided not to send her a check this month (she has an appointment to speak with them on the 13th). But this would have all been fine except that a check I paid through Bill Pay—I pay everything through Bill Pay—wasn’t presented until two weeks later.

E: Please give me a moment while I go through the message.

You: I would have been fine—I had $70 dollars in the bank through the weekend until the reimbursement came in—but the check was presented and as a result I got 4 overdraft fees on the same day, and then another 2 the next day, all for things that were very inexpensive. Because I knew I didn’t have money, I bought a lot of small things instead of just getting a large number of things, hoping that would keep me afloat. I checked the website obsessively to be sure that I was within a safe range—something like 3-4 times a day—but I still got stuck with this.

You: I could have borrowed money once I learned the reimbursement would be late, but of course, it was pointless after I got in the hole. I have since borrowed some cash, but only so that I could buy groceries. I can’t even put it in the bank.

E: I completely understand your concern in this regard.

You: Of course.

E: But, I am sorry I am unable to refund all the fees for you.

E: I am able to refund only $35.00.

E: Trust me, this is the best that I can do for you at this moment.

You: Well then what happens? I can’t pay the balance. I’ve been a customer with your bank for nearly 15 years.

E: I really appreciate your relationship with us.

E: That is the reason, I am going ahead and providing with the $35.00 refund.

You: My credit rating is perfect—doesn’t this count for anything?

You: I teach computer interface and design, and I’m really very good with computers. Is there any place on the website where I can find good tutorials about the site? I made this mistake because I didn’t know where to look for checks that hadn’t been presented. It doesn’t appear on the Accounts Detail page.

E: I really wish I could but the credit rating will not come in count.

E: I personally apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.

You: I had a problem a few months ago because I didn’t know that holds appeared on the Available Balance History page and not the Accounts Detail page.

E: Would you like me to refund $35.00?

You: Yes, but could you at least help me with the site?

You: I don’t have any place to turn.

E: May I know which site you are referring to?

You: The Bank of America Online Banking Center.

E: Sure.

E: Online Banking [endnote 36]

E: Please click on the above link to know more about the online banking.

E: Is there anything else that I may assist you right now?

You: Yes, can you tell me what the Clarity Statement is? I came upon it recently.

You: I’ve seen the page you linked to, but it doesn’t explain the difference between the Accounts Detail page and the Available Balance History page, which I need to know.

E: Okay. I will let you know about the difference between both of them.

E: Please keep the following information in mind when reviewing your account balances.

You: Sure [endnote 37].

E: The first balance you notice is the available balance on the Accounts Overview screen.

E: This balance can be updated during a business day with normal electronic or branch transactions.

E: The available balance is the same information that appears on your ATM balance inquiry receipt.

E: Your available balance will also be displayed on the Bill Pay Overview screen in the Pay From drop-down box located on each payee.

E: A running balance for each item processed and the end-of-day ledger balance is shown on Account Activity sub-tab, on the Account Details page.

E: The ledger balance is all cash, checks and other items deposited to your account, minus all withdrawals and checks paid against the account.

E: The ledger balance does not include any transactions outstanding that have not yet been presented to the bank.

E: The ledger balance shown is current as of the previous business day.

E: Please note that the Account Details page will show both your available balance and your ledger balance.

E: The available balance is located on the top left of the screen.

E: The ledger balance is shown on the Account Activity sub-tab.

You: Ok. But how come holds don’t appear there?

You: If I can get penalized for holds, they should appear there, right?

E: When you make the debit card transactions it will show in pending status.

E: You need to make a note of the authorization holds.

You: Yes, but holds are a different matter. And you never know how much you are being held for.

You: Restaurants and bars don’t tell you this.

E: But you will know the amount that you spend right?

You: Yes, but that’s not what they hold you for. They often hold you for much more until they process the transaction. Meanwhile, you are held responsible for it by the bank.

You: And, again, that figure doesn’t appear in the Available Balance.

E: Typically, a transaction made with a check card or ATM Card using a PIN is processed and posted to your account on the same day that the transaction is made, or on the next business day.

E: When a check card transaction is made, the merchant requests the bank to authorize the transaction. If the bank does authorize the transaction, the bank becomes obligated to pay that amount to the merchant.

E: Usually, a transaction made with a check card will appear as authorized on the day it is conducted, but may take one to three business days to post.

You: So are you saying I should write down every transaction that I make?

E: Yes, you need to just make a note of it.

You: Everything, bottles of coke, hamburgers, etc?

E: Then it would be easier for you to use the funds.

E: Or.

E: You can set up for the alerts.

E: So whenever you make the transactions, you will receive the notice.

E: So that you cannot overdraw your account.

You: Yes, but the alerts only tell you when your balance reaches a certain point. I check the website all the time.

You: I won’t get an alert about a hold.

You: The alerts are linked to your available balance, which doesn’t account for holds.

E: I do realize your situation.

E: I will be glad to forward this suggestion to our respective department.

E: They will surely able to look in to this.

You: Also, I don’t understand why checks that have been paid through online Bill Pay, but which haven’t been presented, don’t appear as “pending” in Available Balance. Why is this?

You: If you pay all of your bills through site, as I do, and which BoA encourages, you would think that they would help you keep track of the ones that haven’t come in. I pay 15 bills through bill pay on average, which makes it hard to see what has already come in.

You: I.e. been presented.

You: How do I keep track of that?

You: Still there?

E: Yes.

E: I understand that you wish to keep all the track for all the bill payments, am I correct?

You: Yes, including those which don’t get presented right away. I was told by customer service that checks were sent out early so that they would be presented on the pay-by date, but this doesn’t seem to be true.

E: Online banking allows you to view the payments made last 180 days.

You: Yes, but where do I find information about checks that have been sent or “processed” but not presented?

E: You mean cancelled checks?

You: No, those checks that I paid through Bill Pay but which have not been deducted from my account.

You: Checks that I’ve sent appear in the left column on the day they are sent, then disappear. Most of them are deducted right away, but occasionally one is not deducted for a few weeks. They are hard to keep track of, and I can’t find anywhere on the site that just lets me know what they are.

E: Unless the bill payment posts to your account, you can view the cancelled bill pay.

E: Is there anything else that I may assist you right now?

You: Yes, can you tell me what the Clarity Statement is?

You: I really appreciate your help. I just don’t know where else to get this info from.

You: I figure with chat you can look these things up.

E: May I know from where you come to know about the Clarity Statement?

You: From the website, trying to find answers to these questions.

E: Please be rest assured that there is no such statement.

You: Ok. Sorry for all the questions. Could you explain to me the Extended Fees? When do they start, and how much are they?

E: Sure.

E: Extended overdrawn balance fees is the charge of $35.00 will be assessed to your account, if your account was overdrawn and if there was no deposit for the next 5 business days, then your account will be charged with Extended overdrawn balance fees [endnote 38].

You: How often?

E: Whenever the account was overdrawn.

You: No, I mean how often will I be charged an additional $35?

You: I don’t think I can pay back the bank within the week, or maybe even two weeks.

You: Is there a webpage that explains this?

E: Only one time.

You: Oh, so I’ll get an additional charge of $35 despite all of the overdrafts just once?

You: Sorry to pester you, but I’m in a bad situation.

E: Fees [endnote 39].

E: Please click on the above link.

You: Thanks, I’ll check.

E: You will get the details on all the fees.

E: Is there anything else that I may assist you right now?

You: Ok, a few more questions. What about My Portfolio. Would that help me?

You: Do holds, pending checks, etc. appear there?

You: Really sorry. I just need to know.

E: Not a problem [endnote 40].

E: My Portfolio gives you the ability to consolidate and manage all of your online accounts in one place, with a single ID and Passcode.

E: It provides a comprehensive view of all your accounts and balances across multiple financial institutions, and even allows you to consolidate non-financial accounts, such as frequent flyer programs and e-mail accounts.

E: No enrollment needed.

E: While signed into Online Banking, just click My Portfolio tab located on the Accounts tab.

E: Remember to always look for your SiteKey before you sign-in to Online Banking.

E: Bank of America accounts linked to your Online ID will be immediately available.

E: You can choose to add more accounts at any time.

E: To set up more accounts in My Portfolio, you will need your sign-in information, including user names and passwords, for each of the online accounts you want to view.

You: But what about holds and pending check?

E: I am sorry the authorization holds you cannot view it online [endnote 41].

E: However, if it is a deposit hold you will be able to get the details of the hold when ever you deposit the funds at the teller.

You: Ok. Thanks. One thing I discovered was the “Info Center.” What is that?

E: Info center is the one where you will get more information with pictorial representation.

You: Will it answer these questions?

E: You can just go through it, you will get more information.

E: However, if it is with regards to the fees, you can go through the link which I provided as Fees.

You: Ok, thanks. One last question. Can you tell me why exactly BoA charges overdraft fees? Is it a punishment, or is there some cost to the bank?

You: Where do these fees go?

E: An Overdraft item occurs when we pay your check or other transaction even though you do not have enough available funds in your account to cover the given transaction. In this case, we pay the transaction and charge you an Overdraft Item fee for each item.

You: So I buy something for one dollar and I get an overcharge fee for $35. I don’t quite understand.

You: But I know that’s what happens.

You: Lastly, who can I write to for more information about this? Or to appeal. Do you have an email address or phone number?

E: Yes, I do realize your situation.

E: Please let me know if you have any more queries, I will be glad to assist you?

You: I’d like an email address for someone else I can write to.

You: Or mailing address.

E: I request you to send us an e-mail by clicking on customer service tab then after that on left hand side there is a option send us a mail.

You: Yes, but that will just go to people like you who can’t do much because of your limitations. Is there anyone else?

E: Here me and my supervisor.

E: If you wish I can transfer this chat to him.

E: May I?

You: Sure, but show him this stuff so I don’t have to repeat myself.

You: Have a nice day, sorry to be a pain.

E: The chat will be encrypted.

E: You need not repeat the whole thing.

E: No worries!

You: Oh, ok.

E: Please give me a moment while I transfer this chat.

You: Sure.

You: You take care!

E: Thank you. You too.

Please wait while I transfer the chat to A. who can best assist you today.

Thank you for choosing Bank of America. You are now being connected to a Bank of America Online Banking Specialist.

A: Hello, I am A., the floor supervisor.

A: Please give me a moment while I go through the previous conversation.

You: Great, thanks!

A: Thank you.

A: Thank you for your patience.

You: Cool, no problem.

A: I understand that you are concerned about the overdraft fees.

A: Is that correct?

You: Yes. As you can see, I’ve asked several questions: about the difference between the Available Balance History and the Account Activity page, about where checks that have been paid through Bill Pay that have not been presented, about the Clarity Statement and its purpose, about the lack of really good tutorials on the site (the Info Center tutorials are really bad), etc.

You: I really want to know how to use this site, because I’ve had overdraft problems in the past, and they’ve mostly been for very different reasons: holds, checks, trying to change the amount of a bill pay and not being able to, etc.

You: Also about My Portfolio—can this help me put this all together?

A: Brian, I have reviewed your account and I see that the fees have been assessed correctly.

You: Yes, I know. I want information about the website.

A: However, I will be able to refund only one $35.00 fee as a courtesy.

A: Sure, please go ahead.

You: With what?

A: I understand that you would like to know about our Online Banking. Is that correct?

You: Yes, of course. Do you know what the Clarity Statement is?

A: Can you be more specific about the clarity statement?

You: You should probably Google it. It’s there. I think it was released in September.

You: It has a line about how all Bank of American customers should record ALL of their transactions in a check register. I discovered it when I was trying to find out why I was having all of these problems. I check the online center obsessively.

A: I would request you to contact us at 1.800.622.8731[Customer Service number for Checking and Savings] regarding the clarity statement.

You: What number is that?

A: The associates at the above mentioned number will help you with information about the clarity statement.

A: Our specialists are available between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Saturday, Pacific Time.

You: Is there anyone more senior that I can write to about this? I’d like to write a formal letter to someone higher up in the company.

You: Here’s the Clarity Statement: https://www1.bankofamerica.com/deposits/odao/popup/disclosure_popup.cfm?template=sofCA&RequestTimeout=300

You: Here’s a story about it:

You: http://www.creditnet.com/credit-news/boa-offers-clarity-statement-for-credit-cards-19489771.php

You: Still there?

You: Sorry to be a pain.

A: Yes I am with you.

A: Brian, could you also let me know how I may help you with your concerns regarding My Portfolio?

You: I just want to know if it’s a place where all of my holds, pending checks and other data that seems spread out across your site can be found. But I’m more interested in the Clarity Statement, since it seems to have some purpose.

A: Let me explain My Portfolio.

You: Ok.

You: But only if it can help me in this situation.

You: I’ve cancelled all of my credit cards. I’m a web designer so I know about these things. But I get fouled up with this site in a hundred different ways.

A: My Portfolio is a feature that allows you to view your accounts with different financial institutions at one place [endnote 42].

You: I don’t deal with other financial institutions.

A: Okay.

You: Well, I guess I have all of the answers I need. You don’t know anything about the Clarity Statement, you can’t answer questions about the different screens on the site and where I can find detailed answers about them, you’ve never heard of the “Info Center,” you won’t provide me with a name or email address where I can lodge a complaint (this appears readily on the web), you can’t explain the logic behind overdraft fees, you haven’t referred me to any of the FAQs on the site (which are really poorly constructed), and you are not able to provide a customer of over 15 years with more than a $35 refund. Fine. This is all going into my report.

A: I will help you with the information about the various screens.

A: Please give me a moment.

You: No, too late. The site is really incredibly complicated, and if a person has to conduct a chat session for an hour and a half—a web designer and computer programmer, no less—then I’m not sure what you can do! Sorry to be a pain, but I’ve just written a thirty page analysis of your site which I will distribute to journalists, activist sites, etc. and this chat session (I won’t include your name) will be in it.

A: I personally apologize for any inconvenience caused to you in this regard.

You: Sounds good. Have a great night.

Note:
This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.

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