The Bank of America maintains a laughably inept website called the InfoCenter, which can be found at the following URL:

I don’t remember quite how I got to it, but it had to be through the BoA banking center in my attempts to find tutorials and information. However, the InfoCenter is clearly one extended advertisement. It purports to give you information such that you will become “all-knowing”—this is a direct quote from the home page—about the bank and online banking. In fact, the information it presents is trivial, over-designed and is broken up into tiny chucks in such a way as to deter browsing.

At the center of the page is a search box. One presumes that a search such as “What is a hold?” would bring up a few hits. This search box, however, is one of those where it begins to provide links for you as soon as you type a letter, such that if you type “What” a series of links appears (four, in fact). “What is a” brings up two hits, one called “Online Banking” and one called “Online Banking—Add a Payee.” “What is a hold”—even before hitting return—brings up the message “Nothing found.” The single word “hold” also brings up nothing.

Typing in the word “Over” brings up four hits, all of which have the word “Overview” in them. The moment you type “Overd” there are no hits. “Available Balance History”—the name of one of the more mystifying pages of the Online Banking site—doesn’t get past the “v.”

There is a note under the search box (actually, it is called the “QuickSearch for Personal” box) that states: “This does not search” Of course, this public website would not have access to the documents behind the BoA firewall. But, in fact, it searches nothing but titles of the handful of documents that compose the “InfoCenter.” They are all listed—when the hits come—in a box called “Popular Topics”—but popular with who? Where are the less popular ones—the ones about the penalties?

There are two dropdown boxes on the right hand side. “Select a Platform” has options for Online Banking, Mobile Banking, Credit Cards and ATM. Online Banking has the most options—in fact, what they seem to have done is broken down topics into several smaller topics so that you can only look at one little piece of information at a time. The dropdown box has three items called “Overview,” but in fact these just provide overviews for their relative sections. Because there are no bold spaces or indents in this dropdown box, you are not even aware that there are separate sections. This might seem the quibble of a web designer—my main point is that pretty much all of these tiny bits of information could have come in one document, since there’s not all that much there.

When you do decide to download a document—”Review Payments,” for example—you get very cartoon-like PDFs demoing the respective feature of the site. “Review Payments,” for example, shows you how to review a bill you’ve just paid with Online Banking and how to change the amount—not informing you, as I’ve learned, that you cannot change the amount more than a few days after you first set up the payment—and how to delete a payee. While I understand the usefulness of these PDFs in deflecting the calls to their customer service center for entirely mundane matters, they serve in no way to make you “all-knowing” about the site—they hardly get you started. Again, as a Disney-fied version of the same four bits of information (see example pages in the appendix) it is a form of advertisement.

None of these pages about “reviewing payments” tells you what I think is one of the more important—and otherwise absent features—of Online Banking, which is how to track whether or not a check that you have sent has been presented. The screen which you would use to do this appears in the PDF, but it is not noted for having this purpose. I’ll describe “Review Payments” screen eventually in this document.

The irony is that the “search” box—which usually suggests an exhaustive cataloguing of a wide array of information—is really just a toy that brings up at most 4 hits from a very small pool of documents. The drop-down boxes—which are usually used for a small number of topics—brings up many more than are needed, including redundant “Overviews.” The overall impression is one of a old-fashioned movie set, with a high and sturdy buildings being backed by plywood and such.

There are loads of videos [endnote 11], demos and PDFs on this site that go through a lot of the same basic information in several ways [endnote 12]. My sense is that this “InfoCenter” was created to make the services more attractive to new customers, and to deflect callers. Worse, though, is that none of them give any sense of the complexity of the site or the difficulties you might run into trying to manage a checking account with so many ways of making payments, which are the following:

  • Debit card with PIN number
  • Debit card used like credit card, with signature
  • Paying a bill to a company that deducts the day it’s sent
  • Paying a bill to a small company or individual that presents checks weeks later
  • Paying with debit card to a restaurant that will put a hold on your check
  • Having a monthly bill payment that was set up on BoA
  • Having a monthly bill payment that was set up on another site

There are probably additional ways to spend money that I haven’t listed—debit cards are increasingly ubiquitous, and new uses are always being discovered. Some examples of virtual purchases that don’t fall under the purview of the Online Banking site but which exhibit the complexity of virtual banking transactions include online auctions with automated payment, in which case the funds might not be deducted immediately, if at all.

This list testifies to the complexities of virtual bank transactions, not to mention the increasingly blurry line between a “credit card”—for which one applies, has an application reviewed, and signs a contract, and which is expressly related to one’s credit rating—and a “debit card”—which on the surface directly reflects funds that have been deposited in a bank, but which operates more like a credit card (poor use of one can kill your credit rating, but good use of one will never raise it), but one whose penalties can be triggered with alarming immediacy.

Paying for things now seems to me more complicated than in the days of checks and cash, especially given the immediacy of the penalties, and any website that was serious about helping its customers would respect that.

As a last note, the cynicism that went into the construction of the “InfoCenter” is apparent in the section called “My InfoCenter” which, like the QuickSearch box, seems to provide some of the services that one associates with a robust website—in this case, the ability to “save” useful tutorials to a personalized page for later reference—but which is in fact just another false front. The information that you can save are those superficial PDFs (and maybe Janet, too) that are easily accessed from the homepage, and no elements from the larger body of material available in the online center’s search feature (described below) can be saved here.

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.