Tired of filing paper statements for checking accounts, I logged onto my bank’s website to see how to sign up for electronic-only statements (a service the bank has been pushing heavily). Here is what they say:

Your electronic statements are exactly the same as your paper statements. Each month you will receive an email informing you when your statement is available online. Your statements will remain online for 24 months on our secure web site and may be downloaded or printed for permanent retention.

But this is a lie. Electronic statements are not exactly the same as paper ones. Paper statements don’t disappear after two years in my filing cabinet. (There have been instances when I needed transaction information that was more than 2 years old.) So if I go electronic I will have to do even more work, printing statements myself, if I want to continue keeping records as I do now. I can see why the bank likes this arrangement but what’s in it for me?

Banks are so stupid. If they promised to keep my statements on their computers indefinitely I would sign up to go paperless in a second. They would still come out ahead. Can anyone imagine that it costs them less to print and mail twelve statements a year — plus credit-card and loan solicitations, privacy policies, etc. — than to store my data for the same period on their hard drives? What a bunch of dopes. Of course these are the same people who always jump, lemming like, into whatever lending sector is currently overdone and therefore fraught with hidden risk. And then they get burned and become irrationally risk-averse until the next business fad comes along.

UPDATE: Another bank makes the electronic statements available in perpetuity, but requires me to request them a day before it will show them to me online. That’s better, but why can’t they simply make all statements readily available all of the time?

11 thoughts on “Idiots”

  1. Idiots are everywhere. I think in a small Co (architectural office) and in a big one (bank) the percentage of idiots is the same, but the bigger organization, the more impact idiots have, by sheer number of them. And idiot is much better suited for bureaucracy than a non-idiot, so in oversized Co idiots thrive. Anyway, that’s my theory.

  2. Just to play devils advocate, security concerns may govern the availability for information from banks. Trying to keep that much sensitive information secure yet easily available would be a difficult balance.

    On the other hand, its just as likely to be another institution incapable of viewing problems from the customers perspective.

  3. Banks are like so far away on this online stuff. Not just statements, but also payment systems. They really cannot duplicate check functionality without paper. AFAIK, all consumer payment systems are either ACH (based on regular pre-scheduled payments that can not be changed ad hoc) or send the order to a vendor who prints a paper check and puts it in the mail.

    BTW, can you down load the statements and print them to pd files?

  4. Shannon — I think the biggest problem is not security, but legacy. The banks all have big iron legacy systems. They were the first businesses to use computers. I think it will take a long time to bring them into the 21st century.

  5. Yesterday I phoned to change a service we use; the added service was (approx) $18. We’d been paying approx $100. The voice on the other end said she thought she could get us a real deal; she went off the phone for many minutes; she came back and told me we could get it for $175. I said, but. . . she said, oh, you don’t understand, they add tax, so it’s another $10. tax. But. . . I kept saying until I hung up, frustrated. She never was able to conceptualize the fact that adding 18 to 100, even if adding the tax for 18, could not possibly be 175.

    And how many times have drive-through cashiers been unable to understand why you give them a ten and a one for a 5.50 purchase – or 6.13 for a 5.63 one.

    Some of this comes from the distaste of grade schools to focus on the sheer memorization that dealing with numbers in transactions like this require; some of it is probably too early an introduction and too much dependence on calculators. But the small interchanges with people so often reflect the culture that is expressed in the bigger transactions like yours, Jonathan, and the yet bigger ones.

    And it isn’t just intelligence, math ability, vocabulary – it really is thinking that perhaps your job is to think like a customer.

  6. As Robert suggests, a pdf print capture utility is good for saving document images as they would be printed. You can always print them later if you need to.

    I wouldn’t trust the bank as sole keeper of my important records anyway. What if there’s an IT disaster or a dispute? What if their stupid site is inaccessible just when you need it? Saving files is still a bit of a pain, but it’s much better than actual paper all around.

  7. Shannon: Brokerage firms don’t seem to have trouble making old statements easily available online.

    Robert and ArtD0dger: I could save the statements on my computer without printing them. Maybe I will start doing this, since I already do it for other documents, photos, etc. The point about not relying on the bank is reasonable. It just seems to me that banks should, as part of their essential services, reliably store records in convenient form for their customers, especially since doing so is not expensive. (OTOH, this bank has made a couple of major errors with my account, at least one of which was obviously caused by a programming mistake, so maybe I shouldn’t expect much of them.)

  8. Huh? My bank’s on line display of my statements offers a PDF version, which ‘I’ use to make my own paper copy, a simple click on the mouse, for the annual financial file that is then stored away with that year’s income tax data. Of course you could just save the PDF to CD, but CDs do age out themselves, cause the technology alters the state of chemical in the bonding rather than permanently etched the data. So one of the DVD data disks which ‘burns’ the information would be a better choice.

  9. Many companies appear to be captives of their own IT organizations. In far too many cases, IT people–and I’m specifically including IT executives in this assertion, not just individual contributors–are too interested in working on whatever’s trendy at the moment rather than working on things that will make the company some money, with the primary motivation being the burnishment of the resume.

    It’s possible that some banking executive asked, “Hey, I hear disk storage is cheap now. Why don’t we keep the statements indefinitely instead of for just two years?” which question was met with something like “All our resources are now tied up on the multilevel SOA client-server object-oriented platform transition, which is a major item in the strategic plan. We can take a look at your request, but it will mean delaying our primary strategic deliverable. Do you want to sign off on that?”

    On the other hand, there are many banks that are so non-client-oriented that the question might have never even been raised in the first place.

  10. Jonathan,

    Brokerage firms don’t seem to have trouble making old statements easily available online.

    I don’t know about brokerage firms but from talking with other programmers who worked on banking systems, I can say that they face unique security challenges with a uniquely paranoid IT culture. Its customary, for example, to divide all transactions between two separate programs, often running on two separate platforms, programmed by two separate companies. Worse, security fears don’t have to be reasonable or practical. One good burn can scar an organization for years following.

    I to have not found online services very well done. My utility charges me extra for doing their data entry work for them online! However, when dealing with computers, it’s important to remember that the easier it is to reach information, the easier it is to steal or alter it. Striking a balance keeps skilled IT people up at night. For a bank, its institutionally safer to just go slow, cumbersome, annoying and safe.

  11. My wife has a very high level position at a fairly big bank’s headquarters. Whenever we go to any sort of gathering, she is bound to get a complaint about someone’s account as though she can either fix the problem instantly or has anything to do with that end of the system.People dislike banks. Oddly, they continue to use theml

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