I’d love to take total credit for the Bank of America’s decision to get rid of overdraft fees for purchases on a debit card. Revolutionary prose can set the heart of corporate America quaking. Thank you, Tom Paine!

Of course, it was just good timing. My piece went live on January 18th, and they made their announcement on March 9th. I sent their CEO/President, Brian Moynihan, a copy of the text on February 2nd, and their Customer Advocate, Jorge Pinedo, sent me a longish letter dated February 17th. They did refund the overdraft fees, which was nice. I also got a phone call which I never returned (purely because I was too busy — I’ve since lost the number).

No mention was made in the in the letter of the forthcoming policy change. The only reference to my text (which was more concerned with the website and its presentation of information) was noting that a bank website cannot keep track of checks written on paper. I mentioned that in the text, of course — I don’t expect a computer, even one with a camera above the screen, to be quite so panoptic. He did write that the Ecommerce Channel division were going to review the text — I wonder!

Anyway, I’m working on a new, shorter version of the document that only addresses the website and not issues with credit and debit. As it turns out, the Wells Fargo site is even less informative than the Bank of America site, but I haven’t tested matters such as how holds and other forms of pending debits are represented.

In case you missed it the first time…

Press Release

Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation provides a detailed, easy-to-read critical evaluation of Bank of America Online Banking. It argues that the great portion of the bank’s revenue accrued through overdraft fees is often the result of the deceptive and confusing nature of the online banking site.

The average citizen has no choice but to rely on debit and credit cards for many transactions, which are impossible to track on paper due to the ubiquity of virtual transactions. The BoA online banking center, despite its fluffy tutorials and FAQs, does not make this task easier, but rather conceals the increasingly complex nature of virtual transactions.

This analysis, while informal, integrates the new fields of software studies and data visualization with perennial complaints about the abuses of the banking industry. It argues for a complete transformation in how online (and other forms of virtual) banking is conducted rather than the cosmetic policy changes of recent years.


1. “Perhaps I am not good enough”—the new guilt paradigm
2. A response to bad press—the Clarity Statement
3. The InfoCenter—style without substance
4. The search function within the banking center—formless information
5. Selective education—no “cascading fees” in the search results?
6. Online bill pay—where are the pending checks?
7. Divide and confuse—related information is spread across several pages
8. Overdraft fees—the criminalization of the U.S. citizen
9. “Reviews” of online banking sites—extensions of public relations
10. Conclusions

Appendix I: Screen Captures from Bank of America websites

Appendix II: “The Card Game: Overspending on Debit Cards Is a Boon for Banks”

Appendix III: “5 Sneaky Overdraft Traps”

Appendix IV: Escalating a Complaint and the Executive Email Carpet Bomb

Appendix V: Final Chat Session with Bank of America Customer Service