Wednesday, December 29, 2010

US Personal Banking for UK Citizens

If anyone outside of the US has attempted to open a US Bank account, and worked with it outside the States, you will probably be aware that things are not all together smooth and easy.    I am a Consultant that has recently setup a US LLC (Limited Liability Corp) together with a US partner.   I thought in todays electronic age that it would be relatively easy to transfer funds between the US and the UK.

Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case.

First attempt - open up a Business Account with TD Bank.

Well - they say first impressions count. Well.   I cannot recall a customer service experience less positive than when I signed up for a US TD Bank account.    Any question related to online banking was responded with... I suggest you call the Technical Support line... etc. etc.   'Could you give me your US Social Security number' - "I don't have one"... 'Oh..  I don't know how we can open up this account for you....'   In the end, it was discovered that performing a wire transfer from the US to the UK required a physical trip to the bank...  ok.. let me just jump on a plane to New Jersey...

So - TD Bank... not suitable.

Next - Bank of America.  I walked into BofA in New York.  1hr later I had a new account, with a temporary bank card.  30 minutes later, I had used it to purchase coffee.   Wow.  Great service....


Logged in online - everything seemed good.  Online banking system looked nice and clear.  So.. now to make a wire transfer...   ah.. problem.  There is a limit on the funds you can transfer unless you use a SecureSafe device.    Right - I have 2 options.    Option 1 - to receive a code on a mobile phone or Option 2 - to receive a SecureSafe Card.    Well... I need it soon.  So lets try the mobile phone...

Aaargghhh.  The mobile phone needs to be a US mobile phone.. I am in the UK... no joy there.

So... need to go with option 2... Order the SecureSafe Card... I go through the screens to order it....  'There has been an error processing your request...."...   Tried it 4 times... same error.

Called customer support.

OPERATOR:  ... 'I'm afraid your IP address is not recognized.. Are you located outside of the US...'

ME:   "ah... yes.. I am in the UK.   I need this device to make transactions outside the US".    '

Operator:  'I'm afraid you can only request the device if you are in the US'.

ME:  'But I am not in the US... I don't want to fly to the US to request the device.   So I cannot do anything?'

Operator:  'You could pass on your secure login details to someone you trust and they could order it'...

ME: 'You are suggesting I hand over my username, password etc.   to someone else?'

Operator:  'Yes sir...'

So.... end of Bank of America account... except... I now have all my funds in the account.... How can I withdraw them.... Only solution appears to be to fly to the US... switch on my US mobile... receive text message... transfer funds out of account... Close Bank of America account.  Or, I can use my Bank of America Visa Debit card.... and be charged 3%... So... fees for moving 5000 USD this way 150 USD.

So - if you are a UK citizen, and you want to open a US bank account and work on it from the UK, you cannot do it if you are a business with TD. You cannot do it unless you order up your Securecard device while you are in the UK.

Next option   HSBC...

Currently working on this.  They claim to be the World Bank....  I can open up a UK account and a US account (from the UK) and use an online system to transfer funds between accounts for no fee....   well.  I will report back on whether this works.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Online Banking User Interfaces - Smile

20 years ago, my interface with my bank consisted of the telephone, letters and a visit to the branch.    I worked a fair distance from my branch and it only opened silly short hours, so I didn't often go in.

Today - I have eBanking.  Yahoo.... (mmm.  maybe that word has a different meaning)... Yehaa!

Or... so it should be.

The problem is, is that I am a geek wanna-be Software Designer.   Well, that is maybe a bit unfair on myself. I have, and do design software, but I do not design eBanking software. I like to work with systems that are designed and work well.

I am a banking user of Smile - a 'division' of the Coop.   I have been a customer for many years.  I think it was about 8 or so years ago I signed up.  I thought the system was 'just ok' and have used it since.

8 years on... and the system is 'just ok'.   Problem is every other Credit Card and eBanking solution I use it so much better.

So - why not jump?  Well.   That is a right pain in the neck. All these Standing Orders and Direct Debits.   But, I may just do that. However, I thought I would give them a chance. I wrote to customer services (messaged) and they responded by saying I could write back via them and they would pass this onto the Developers.  However, I only have 1000chrs to play with - so I decided to blog it here instead.

So - I login to my Smile Bank.  Great. Login is not too painful.  I need to remember lots of things, but it is ok, I have written them down somewhere that is not secure...   well - everyone does...

First problem I have is the 'home screen' the system shows me a list of my current and savings and credit card accounts in 2 colours.  Black and Pink.  Mmm.  Black and Pink.  Aesthetic... well. but, maybe I can click on the pink entries to jump to another screen... ah.. no.   the black... ah no.   Some black and some pink... bingo.  Yes.    

To figure out what I can do, I need to do a kind of paintbrush thing swishing back and forth until I see my icon turn to a hand.  Now - I know where I can and cannot click. But, why can't I just click anywhere in a row?

Ok - I have made it.  I can see my transaction - oh no, wait it is only showing me the last few.    Ah - yes, I see a button that says 'Previous Statements' - no problem.     Oh yuck - it now gives me a screen that says Page No.   Statement Date....  
150            15/11/2010
149            21/10/2010

etc.  I really don't care what the page number is.  I am doing eBanking... the page number is not important.

So - anyway, I click on Page 150....

Presto - it gives me a list of transactions for Page 150.  However, it gives me 3 buttons - Recent items - that must be the first page it gave me... but also - 'Previous Statements' - is that previous to the one I am looking at... or.. not sure...    I also have a 'Back a Page'.... I am on page 150... so if I go back a page that must be 149.. or is that another part of the same page 150.. I am confused.

Maybe I could press the view in Excel button.. sadly no. That is not an option.
How about PDF or my Home finance software?  Nope :-(

Anyway - maybe I am just being grumpy on a Monday morning... Back to the task of preparing my tax return for 2009/10... I know,  I should have done it back in May.  However..  so.. time to go back through my statements for last year....

that's odd... it doesn't seem to allow me to go back more than 12 months... I need to 'use the option 'order copy statement' in customer services'.   But this is an eBank. Surely the processing and disk space required to hold transactions for more than 12 months is not a problem?  It must be a few thousand bytes.  [I contacted customer services - they said I should download copies of my statements every month... Yeh - right... I receive 4 emails a month... I am supposed to go online 4 times a month an effectively create copies of my statement for them!?!]

Back button... I don't remember asking for it to log me out.... I was only going back from the Secure messages page... [I know, for a web developer, the back button is tricky... but it can be done]

Ok - my last gripe.  Secure Messages.  If I went into a Bank Branch and was asked to fill out a form and then come back tomorrow for an answer - I would be really annoyed... So... why do they expect that I will be happy to do the same in eBanking?   Why can I not chat online with bank support staff realtime?  I know - it costs more - but what about customer service? A dialog in this manner can take 3 days.   I must have asked for years what address to use on Standing Orders - I could never find it when I needed it, and don't use the one at the bottom of the screen...! that is the wrong one.

Ok - my very last gripe.  Account names.  I need to remember my accounts by the numbers - Sort Code and Account Number... why?  Why can I not just give them a nice friendly name like 'Savings Account', 'Joint Account' etc. and the system displays my nice friendly name instead of  99999999-999999.

I understand that Smile may have a User Interface design principle that is aimed at keeping it very very simple. However, I think people are comfortable moving on a bit.  The old days of making it look like a paper statement should be gone.   It is also possible to provide more advanced options, but not put them 'in your face'.

You know what I would really like to do?  I want to type in;

Transfer £150 from my Current account to my Savings Account...

I then want it to figure out what that means  - repeat it, and then do it.

What I am really sad about with Smile is that they probably save millions of pounds in not having Branch offices.  Wouldn't it be nice if they just spend maybe 1% on the replacement of the Branch office on Smile eBanking itself? 

So - please Smile - can you make my Smile online banking experience a pleasure rather than a pain?