My new project: Tact, a simple chat app.

Bank of America misses an opportunity to market online banking at its branches

October 03, 2009

Sometimes I wire money from my Bank of America account to another country. It used to be that you had to fill a paper form at their branch to do this. A few months ago, I went to their branch and was turned away, saying that I should use their online banking to do this. Which failed–the online bank did not recognize a valid IBAN account number, so I had to go back to the office and still use the paper form.

Now this week, I needed to do the same. I went to my local branch and was again turned away. I insisted that I want to use their paper form because I am sick of nonworking systems, and I had seen the system not working before. But the representative told me that the system had been fixed since I last tried, and I should give it a shot. And in case I had problems, I should call the online support and they had a “dedicated team” on standby for international wire problems.

This was quite annoying. I am already at the office, and you are a human being. Why do you force me to go away and try a system which may or may not work, and then navigate your stupid phone system (which has a billion numbers to begin with, I don’t know which one I should call in the first place) and sit on hold for a long time to reach some person who probably isn’t empowered to do anything anyway?

“Well,” I said. “You have computers here at the bank branch. Could I use them for online banking to make the said transfer and see that the system works right here and now?”

Turns out this is forbidden. Computers are only for staff. Which to me translates to a missed opportunity. If you are trying so hard to market online banking, why not set up a computer at your branches so people could come and give it a shot right then and there, and get some basic assistance? You have computers already, setting up another one does not cost anything. And having your staff instruct people in online banking could translate to many customers turning to it.

Many people are less tech-savvy than me and would really appreciate this small push, instead of being driven away from the branch with a bunch of paper instructions in their hand and being forced to face online banking the first time for themselves.

Estonian banks are similarly big on Internet banking, but they get this right. At each bank branch in Estonia, no matter which brand, there is at least one computer set up for customer use. And if you are new to online banking, the staff is always willing to walk you through it, so that you are more confident when you leave the branch and can then use it on your own.

The wire transfer system had been fixed and did indeed work when I tried it later on my own. But it would have been nice to try it out right then and there at the branch, so I wouldn’t have left the branch and the staff in an annoyed state of mind.