Monday, December 21, 2009

Account opening improved?

I have had an interesting week of seeing how well, or badly banks are handling their account opening processes. I'm disappointed to see that despite obvious investments in technology, they still need some help to get their processes cleaned up so that they don't cause a new customer to jump through hoops to get things corrected right at the start of the relationship.

1) Bank of America - opening a personal checking account
I generally like BoA for their efficient and friendly customer service when you call them, and the decent online banking facility. It seems that their account opening still needs some help, or someone just didn't think things through.

In this example, my wife finally decided it was time to quit Citizens Bank, after they forced her to go to a branch to do something that should have been simple to do over the phone. So we quickly opened a BoA account online. Quick, easy, and a couple of days to wait for the welcome letter. All seemed to be going so well.

A debit card arrived two days later - with the wrong name on the card. It seems that previously having a credit card administered by BoA, then a new name from getting married was too much for BoA to handle. The credit card was reissued with her new name, but all other records still appeared in her old name. The account opening process thought it was being clever when it automatically linked the new checking account with the previous credit card account, and decided for itself that the name incorrectly floating around on the old account must have been correct after all, reverting all correspondence, cards, checks and so on to the previous name, while ignoring the account application form.

The account is effectively unusable until everything gets corrected. Not a good start to a relationship.

2) Bank of America - opening a business account for Consected
As I said, I liked BoA. Their online account opening is great (for both personal or business accounts), so I thought, unless you are not a citizen of the US. It does not matter if you have a relationship with the bank already, you must go to the branch to open a new account. Even something as simple as depositing money from a current checking account into a savings account or certificate of deposit (CD). This makes my life tricky, so I rarely put savings into BoA accounts.

Anyway, I went to the branch to open my new business account. Visiting a bank branch is slow and painful, but things went well. I was shocked at the complexity of the system the agent had to use to set up the account and the step that requires a telephone call to Chex Systems to validate my details. I have no problem with the need to do third party validation, but really can't it be more automated than recited my details over the phone to another agent?

The issue for me is that the systems that agents must use to set up accounts appear not to be at all customized to the type of account or the needs of the branch agent. It appears to be true that agents and brokers in financial institutions are limited in the types of accounts they can open less by the skills they have selling an appropriate product to a customer or being licensed to sell what is available, but in fact in the amount of training they have in the account opening systems. In all, it took me an hour to open the account. The agent was friendly and helpful, but how few customers can she help in a day if the systems force her to work at that rate?

3) Opening a Certificate of Deposit (CD) for savings with ING Direct
BoA could learn from the simplicity of opening a new account when you already have a customer relationship to work with. ING makes it easy to select a product, open the account and deposit money in it (even if I do not like their deceptive practice of indicating your available balance being your account total plus overdraft agreement where other banks just show the funds available to withdraw - I don't want to use my overdraft routinely, so don't show it to me unless I use it by accident).

ING has it right. They tailor the account opening process to the operator (me, an online customer), making it simple and easy to use, with virtually nothing to get wrong along the way. I bet that the number of 'not in good order' (NIGO) applications is near zero, though the customer base is limited to customers with an existing banking relationship with a well known institution.

This blog started out by discussing some of the issues around new account opening for financial services institutions. Three years in, despite a change of name and a broader focus, the issues around new account opening still exist. The banks need to shape up badly.

A post from the Improving It blog

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

PDF forms induce stress and panic

Its approaching tax season again - in the US I'm thinking about the end of the tax year and in the UK I'm finally going to do the online tax return I've been putting off since April. And with tax returns comes the all too familiar series of questions and forms that we always hope lead us to a complete, accurate and not too large tax bill. This style of question and answer form filling is pervasive for many large personal data capture requirements, where a simple underlying workflow helps you respond with only the relevant information, based on the previous questions you have answered. We see this style of form for taxes all the time, sometimes in financial services for opening a new account, but rarely in other places. In many other applications, we still get the pixel perfect rendition of the original paper form as an electronic document, typically a PDF, with fillable fields. To me, this is a cop-out.

If you have ever filled in a PDF form online, you will start to recognize what a terrible UI a typical paper form really is (in its paper or electronic format). The spaces to enter data often fail to follow a real flow or are too small to be useful, being crammed in to fit the constraints of being printed on a fixed sized page; the notes to assist in filling complex forms are in separate documents or on pages you have to manually scroll up or down to as you enter each response; typically the form can not be submitted electronically even if it can be saved locally. I dislike PDF forms for these reasons, and the fact that they are based on paper forms that were probably designed by 'forms professionals', who probably had little understanding that mere mortals would find them so difficult to understand or use. Even something as deceptively simple as the old US 'visa waiver' for tourists visiting the country required additional 'checkers' walking along the passport control line to validate what tourists had written before they reached the immigration officer, because the form was just so difficult to use. Most people I spoke to found that they could only fill out the form correctly one time in three, and this caused significant anxiety.

In the online world, my preference is always to present an electronic form that is designed for use online. A simple layout of a vertical series of fields enabling the user to always know that the next piece of information to enter is below the previous one, not wedged in a corner filling 'ugly' whitespace. This style is easier to use and easier (and cheaper) to create, so both users and organizations win. If you need a paper form for people unable to submit online (and regulations insist on this for many industries and government), use your current paper form. Don't spend a whole load of money trying to make that paper form electronic.

Of course, many companies and government organizations would not dream of presenting a form that did not look like its original paper version. Maybe this is due to the familiarity that they believe people have with paper forms that leads to less shock when presented with them. Or in a rare case, the form required certification from a regulator, therefore changing the layout is an even more costly proposition. In this case, organizations have to accept that the design of the forms for electronic use will be complex and costly. To do so, ensure that you use a dedicated form design tool that allows you to create the forms and manage their updates into the future.

Unless it has to be done, its always recommended to design and present forms for the medium they will be used in. Paper and electronic media rarely align as we all know from trying to read multi-column PDFs online, so when it comes to requiring data entry, spare your customers the pain of scrolling more than they are typing.

It is hard to attract clients in the first place, whatever service you provide, so its essential to avoid the situation where a prospective customer chooses not to sign up with your organization or for your service due to the anxiety that a complex form gives them. Don't believe me, watch your parents when they see a complex PDF form pop up when they click a link. The expression will be of stress and panic. Do you really want to put your new customers through that?

A post from the Improving It blog

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Comcast's split personality, and what it means for businesses

Why on earth am I blogging about Comcast's joint venture with GE on NBC Universal? Since when have I been interested in such things? Well, when it touches a company that has been trying to appeal to small businesses so intensely, it seems only right that I talk 'entertainment news'.

Comcast, the largest cable company in the US, has two segments, one for the provision of the wired services, such as TV, broadband Internet and phone. The second in the programming segment, which already held some highly exciting content such as the Golf Channel and E Entertainment (depending on your TV watching preferences - I'm more of a Discovery and History watcher). My question is this: "How will the Comcast cable segment be distracted by the renewed focus on broadcast television?". Putting it another way, I see that Comcast has spent a significant amount of time recently pushing its range of non-broadcast capabilities to consumers and businesses. The provision of business Internet and VOIP solutions appears to have been a growth area, with the claim that Comcast can deliver these services better and cheaper than the 'phone' company. What happens to these now?

With the expected push from the parent company to make the NBC venture a success, will the cable segment be pushed back into focusing its growth on squeezing more out of the American consumer's pocket through broadcast TV? Will this slow its innovation of Internet, especially business focused Internet products? Or will the the new venture lead to a final opening up of the broadcast TV content onto mobile devices, on demand, with novel new subscription models? With this, will we see interesting new technology innovation with streaming video to the browser containing more than advertising and adult content? Will Internet bandwidth see a leap, with a drop in Mbits per dollar to the end customer?

As you can tell, I have none of the answers, and I would be surprised is Comcast doesn't go back to focus on what it does best - using up valuable bandwidth pushing broadcast TV across the country into people's homes. In my opinion, the revolution for TV, and the innovation of Internet services for consumers and businesses is likely to come from a different deal.

A post from the Improving It blog

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