Why Do Financial Sites Continue to Suck So Much?

As anyone who has applied for a loan or tried to get through a co-op board knows, there is a lot of paperwork required to verify your finances. Getting a financial packet together was my task today, and I figured it would be quick work, what with all of my financial information organized and online, it would be just a matter of click, click, click.

Backing up one second. Since the earliest days of the Internet era I’ve been an online-only type of guy, organizing all my accounts, employee benefits, etc through the web. My wife (as always) has been skeptical, but I insisted. “We can trust eTrade,” I said. “It’s just like a normal bank.” Well, yes. But not in the way they intended.

Following is a brief summary of how eTrade, among other financial companies that I do business with, have failed to design their web presences to allow me to assemble my financial packet. Keep in mind, that as an online-only customer, I represent the most profitable segment of their businesses, yet their boneheaded decisions on usability, technology and security have prevented me from using their sites for common activities. Instead, I will spend quite some time on the phone with a highly paid customer service rep, and then get paper statements printed (at their expense) and sent to me by mail (on their dime). Come on guys, get with it!

Brokerage (eTrade):

  • Attempt to print out recent statement, new browser window opens with nothing in it.
  • Refresh browser, it takes me to the non-logged in homepage.
  • Close browser.
  • Click again on recent statement, new browser opens with statement. Instead of any numbers the columns are all filled with the string “NaN”.

Second Account with eTrade

  • Log out of first eTrade account. (eTrade has a “linking” feature so you can see multiple accounts, but you need to print out a form and get it notarized for it to actually work.)
  • Repeat steps above to print out statements. Same results.

401K Account

  • Login successfully.
  • Navigate to “statements”, click on most recent statement.
  • Statement appears in a frame below the site’s navbar. Prints successfully.
  • Click back button to get back to list of statements (so I can print previous one). Sent to site homepage, logged-out.
  • Repeat steps above for each statement to print.

Paychecks Site

  • Login with correct username and password.
  • Get the dreaded “password expired” screen. (When will people learn that frequently changing passwords is a security risk not a security benefit.)
  • Enter old password, followed by new one. New one is 8 characters long and includes a number.
  • “New password must be at least 8 characters long and include a number. Try again.”
  • Try again, and again, and again.
  • Give up, try the “trouble logging in” link.
  • “Please enter your social security number and your employee id number”.
  • Having no idea what my employee id number is, am forced to give up. Keep in mind that I had my correct username and password to start with and was unable to use the site.

Student Loan Site

  • Login successfully.
  • Search for 5 minutes for anything resembling a “Statement.” Every time I click the back button the browser gives me a “Do you want to send information again” warning dialog. The site is using HTTP POST to send user data between pages. This is probably their solution for avoiding the dreaded cookies which, as we all know, are a serious privacy problem!
  • Eventually find a link to “Mortgage Letter” which has the information I want. This was probably considered a usability improvement since users often want to get loan information for a mortgage, however, they forgot the part about people who might want the information for other purposes.
  • While I’m here, decide that I might want to accelerate some of my loan payments. Click on “Change Payment Options.”
  • Nope. “Change” apparently only refers to lowering your payments. The information on this page refers to consolidation.
  • Click on “Automatic Payments” since I am enrolled in auto debit. OK, this looks good. It shows me my current monthly debit along with information about debit and auto-payment.
  • Click, click, click, click.
  • Back, “Send”, Back, “Send”, Back, “Send.”
  • Give up. It may be possible to change the payment amount but I can’t figure out how.

Business Checking Account

  • Haven’t logged in here lately so I look up my username and password.
  • Expired! Shit.
  • New password…
  • “Please enter your web passcode. You should have received this from your bank manager.”
  • Forget it.

Don’t you guys realize how much money this is costing you?

Comments from Old Blog

Being fiscally irresponsible, I haven’t shared in this experience, but I can easily imagine it’s true. I’m terrified to post stuff like this to my blog anymore, though, as I’m convinced that any company justly deserving my wrath is either a client or a prospect and I’m likely to get fired. God bless you for daring to say what needs to be said.

PS: Why do you list your own email address on the site in a spam-proof format yet require that commenters their their email address? To all who want to write me at the above email address, don’t bother, I never check that one.

Posted by: Rick Bruner on January 6, 2006 2:29 PM