Service: Even Business Customers Deserve Jargon-Free Correspondence

image After an inspiring trip to FinovateEurope, being completely immersed in new technology such as voice/facial recognition, intuitive UIs, and hassle-free mobile payments, I was jolted back to reality when I came home and opened a letter from my bank.

The bad news arrived in a plain-looking envelope, always a bad sign. I was told that Chase Bank was reversing a $6,000 check we’d deposited a week earlier. 

I’ve seen some awful customer correspondence over the years, but this may be the topper. The bank would never send something this illegible to consumers (I hope), but I guess they think small business customers are savvy enough to understand the jargon and ignore the bad design and inconsiderate copywriting.

The bank is wrong. They can’t just grab $6,000 from a small business owner and make no effort to apologize or explain what’s going on.

Here’s the backstory:

  • We deposited a check over the counter at a Chase branch that was made out in US Dollars, but drawn on a foreign bank.
  • It was accepted with no questions asked by the teller and credited to our account with next-day availability.
  • A week letter, the bank changed its mind, removed the money from our account, and sent the letter shown below. 

I can understand putting a hold on the funds, but the utter lack of courtesy in communicating the issue is inexcusable. Ideally, the teller should have warned us about the hold period. But since that didn’t happen, the bank should have sent me an immediate email apologizing for the delay and explaining the situation in simple vocabulary.  

Instead, I got an absolutely ugly letter (see below) that looks more like a Nigerian 419 scam than something a huge corporation would send.

Here are nine problems:

1. Mixed use of ALL CAPS and sentence case, bad spacing, and black & white logo, makes it hard to read, amateurish looking and potentially fraudulent.

2. "Convert Notification"
What does that mean? I’ve never heard the term before.

3. "Batch – 3040743 p. 1"

4. Chase PO Box in Houston 
I deposited it in a Seattle branch, why am I getting a letter from 1,900 miles away?

5. "We are debiting your account"
Please no accounting jargon, just say that you took the money out.

6. "We are converting your 6000.00 item to collection"
What? You are sending a collector after me? What did I do? And why is it called an "item"? And where is the $ sign?

7. Reason: "Not eligible for immediate credit; new FX rate at PMT"
What? First off, stop with the abbreviations, FX and PMT. It won’t cost anything more to spell out the words. And even knowing the jargon, this particular "item" was written in dollars (but did come from an international company), so it’s a little hard to follow the logic here. 

8. "Industry standard for International Collections is 4-6 weeks"
What, I’m not getting the money for 4-6 weeks! Really? Why? Don’t you think we are good for it if it were to bounce. And why didn’t the person at the branch mention this in the first place?  

9. There nothing quite as user-friendly as a 16-digit alphanumeric confirmation number. It could at least have spaces or hyphens so I can read it. 

Bottom line: This is mostly an off-topic rant about one poorly written letter. However, had the message been delivered to me electronically, it could have included links back to the original check, links to FAQs covering international deposits, or even a direct form to ask questions.


Chase letter "explaining" a deposit reversal (27 Jan 2012)


Out of the Inbox: Bon Voyage Email from Capital One

image Yesterday, I mentioned Capital One’s self-service travel notification process. Another aspect of the service is a follow-up email before you head out of town (see below).

I like the email for a couple reasons:

  • The well wishes make you feel good about the bank
  • The message provides helpful contact info in case of trouble
  • It’s an an additional fraud check to ensure that it’s really you traveling to Yakutsk next week

The bank even tells you to call collect. Nice.

Capital One could jazz up the message with more color and snappier copy (note 2), but it gets the job done.

Capital One email to customers who’ve told them they are traveling internationally (31 Jan 2012)
Note: Sent the day before scheduled departure

Capital One bon voyage email

1. Picture credit: Greeting card at Zazzle.
2. I’m surprised Capital One doesn’t use this opportunity to reinforce its travel rewards, mobile app, and zero FX fees. 
3. We’ve tackled remote banking customer service and messaging a number of times in previous issues of our Online Banking Report. The last one was Live Help earlier this year.

Suspicious Activity Messaging: When You Urgently Need to Contact Business Clients

image I get that multi-channel messaging is a mess. I understand that new regulation is creating huge backlogs in project queues. But 17 years into the Web-banking era, I should be able to service my bank account entirely online, if that is my choice. And more importantly, if I’ve signed on for alert services, there shouldn’t be any surprises when I go to log in to my account. 

Yesterday, <largebank> failed me on both accounts (see note 1).

With Finovate Europe less than two weeks away, we are wiring large sums to London to pay for it. My bank got a bit concerned about all this outbound activity, which is good. I’m glad they are paying attention.

But how they went about notifying me about their concerns was simply outdated. Here’s how it went down:

  1. The bank called me from a toll-free number and left a voicemail asking me to call them back. Despite the fact that I get every alert under the sun, the bank did not send an email or text message. I don’t know about you, but listening to voice messages from random 800 numbers is very low on my priority list. By mistake I did happen to hear it a couple hours after the fact. 
  2. As soon as I listened to the message, I first went to my email to see if I’d also received a message from the bank to verify the authenticity of the phone call. Seeing nothing there, I attempted to log in to online banking to verify the call and assure myself that my account had not been drained. But guess what? The bank had disabled my account access and gave me a vague error message with instructions to call a toll-free number. The number matched the one on the voice mail so at least I could confirm it wasn’t a vishing attack. There had been no mention in the voice mail of my account access being disabled.

Now, when you are 11 days out from an event and the cash in the bank is needed to pay for it, it’s beyond disconcerting to be locked out of your account for no known reason.

Luckily, we were able to quickly assure the bank that yes, we really did need to wire that much money. So we are back up and running and our patient vendor simply had to wait one more day. (Update: I wrote this post yesterday. Today, the same thing happened again with another wire. While it wasn’t a surprise this time, it’s annoying.)


A Better Process

Let’s repeat this scenario using an approach that preserves your customer’s sanity while making it more convenient for those that favor digital channels:

  1. Bank sees something odd so it freezes outgoing wire-transfer capability and sends me a text message, an email message, and also leaves a voice mail.
  2. Instead of shutting down my account access, they let me into my account so I can verify that the balances are still there. And for extra credit, the suspicious activity is highlighted.
  3. After confirming the transaction through an extra authentication step, the bank re-opens my outgoing wire capability.
  4. For extra credit, let me simply authenticate the suspicious items by replying back to the messages (at least on smaller dollar items).

Now that I can breathe again, I can lay out three rules to guide your “suspicious activity” messaging:

  1. Contact the customer via the channel of their choice (but also use others for backup in urgent situations).
  2. Allow the customer to authenticate transactions without moving out of that channel.
  3. Never completely disable online access (unless absolutely necessary). Yes, shut off transfer-out functions, but continue to allow “read only access.” And post a red warning graphic within the account to draw attention to the suspicious activity. 


1. I’m not identifying the bank because my “data point of one” may not be indicative of what other customers experience. But I will disclose the name “off the record” if you email me
2. For more on messaging, small business, security and much more, see our Online Banking Report (subscription required).

Can Savings Accounts Be Social?

image I glanced at my ING Direct eStatement alert today (screenshot below) to see what they had to say in the new year. The soon-to-be-Capital-One direct bank is usually pretty creative in its copywriting. And I was not disappointed today. Here’s the pitch inside the alert:


I love the idea of a “Social Network…of Savers,” a Facebook-like place where friends help each other keep spending in check and achieve politically correct savings goals such as the down payment on a home, the college fund, or a rainy day reserve.

But I don’t think the Facebook model works in the real world (note 1). Even though it might be interesting to follow your friends’ drunk spending (note 2), most users want this info to be kept VERY private (note 3). And in most circles, money accumulation is never openly discussed. Who wants to read about someone’s “trip to Tahiti” savings goal when you are trying to get off unemployment?

In its recent email, ING Direct is NOT looking to create the Facebook of savings in any way. While the bank celebrates savings throughout its marketing (e.g.,, this email offer isn’t about sharing with your network, it’s about selling to your network to earn a $10 referral fee per new account, up to $500. And that’s OK, because everyone loves to share “found money.”   

ING Direct email (4 Jan 2012, 9 AM Pacific)

ING Direct estatement email alert 

Referral landing page (link)
Note: There’s even a Flash demo of the referral split for the math challenged.

ING Direct referral landing page

1. I’m not saying that all sharing is a dead end. For example, sharing savings/spending goals can work very well within tight-knit groups such as extended families. And compiled/masked data about peer spending/savings is very promising (see Citi’s Bundle joint venture). Finally, there are numerous opportunities for “social investing” (our 2008 Online Banking Report on the subject), because it’s much more complicated and often openly discussed.  
2. There is room for “social savings” in the context of sharing discounts, money-savings tips, and so on. But that’s not what ING Direct is talking about in this message.
3. Hence the pivots by the two “class of 2010” startups, Blippy and Swipely, which were founded on a “transaction-sharing” model.
4. And the bank makes its win-win. The new customer gets the biggest share, $25 for a savings account, a 70/30 split of the $35 up for grabs. New checking customers get $50, from an 85/15 split of $60.
5. For info on family banking, deposit gathering, transaction sharing, social investing, and much more, see our subscription newsletter, Online Banking Report.

Multi-Channel Messaging is a Mess

Image licensed from Shutterstock Last month, I reported that my “aha moment” at BAI’s Retail Delivery was the realization of just how challenging it had become to manage customer messaging across multiple channels and products.

Consider this 9×12 matrix of 108 product/message options a bank could conceivably use to reach a couple about their banking and loans. The whiteboard in the marketing conference room just won’t cut it any more as the master scheduling tool. 



Card #1

Card #2


Loan #1

Loan #2




Voice home                  
Voice mobile (Sue)                  
Voice mobile (Joe)                  
Email pers (Sue)                  
Email pers (Joe)                  
Email work (Sue)                  
Email work (Joe)                  
Website message                  
Text (Sue)                  
Text (Joe)                  
App (Sue)                  
App (Joe)                  

If that wasn’t complicated enough, unique regulations can govern each channel and/or product.  Some exa
mples: new mortgage rules for a single source of contact; time-of-day preferences (don’t text me while I’m asleep); and privacy issues (don’t alert my spouse to card charges).

And this table gets bigger if you add mail, in-branch, ATM messages or more products such as small business accounts, savings/CDs, and accounts held jointly with other family members. You could also add inbound vs. outbound calls/messages.

But one person’s mess is another’s opportunity. Fintech companies are hard at work on  solutions that turn multi-channel snarls into opportunities to increase satisfaction and/or cut costs.

imageOne key player is Seattle-based Varolii, which delivered my aha moment last month. In a followup last week, I had a chance to sit down with CEO David McCann and have a wide-ranging conversation about customer messaging in the age of the voice/email/text/notifications. I was impressed, both with the enormity of the challenge of coordinating customer messaging, and with the solutions it offers (note 1).

image Then yesterday, I met with Amit Ashman, Marketing Director at Nice, who happened to be here on a whirlwind visit from their headquarters in Israel. His company, which booked $200 million in revenues last quarter, provides call-center technology for large U.S. financial institutions. They have developed a very cool call-center/mobile-app solution about to be unleashed on the world. It blends self-service with agent support in a relatively seamless fashion that I suspect will be the industry standard five years from now.

It’s convinced me to write a report on Multi-Channel Customer Support for our Online Banking Report (note 2). We are also looking to recruit more companies in this area to 2012 Finovate events. So, please email suggestions for solutions providers and/or financial institutions who are tackling the problem.  


1. Great tagline, “Better return on interactions”
2. The multi-channel report won’t be published until early next year. However, we’ve tackled remote customer service and messaging a number of times in previous issues of our Online Banking Report. The last one was Live Help earlier this year. Helps Users Keep Track of What’s Ahead with New Bill Timeline & Reminders

imageIt’s hard to believe that Mint turns four next month. It made its financial industry debut at our first Finovate conference (demo here, Oct. 2, 2007) after having launched to the general public a few weeks earlier.

With 5 million registered users, and public ownership (Intuit), it’s now “the establishment” that dozens of startups look to unseat.

Mint made a large stride forward this week with the addition of a bill-due-date timeline to its Overview page, the page that users land on after login (see inset and first screenshot below).

The company also expanded its text and email bill-due-date reminder system. A wizard launched from a promotion on Mint’s main page (screenshot 2, 3) prompts users to establish reminders for regular household bills.

Bottom line: Mint’s billing timeline is a good example of the forward-looking approach that’s much needed in online and mobile banking.


A timeline of upcoming bills has been added to the’s main Overview page (25 Aug. 2011)

A timeline of upcoming bills has been added to the Overview page

Mint promotes the new feature with a huge interactive banner on the main  Overview page


In this pop-up box, Mint gathers together likely bills and asks if you want a reminder

In this popup box, Mint gathers together likely bills and asks if you want a reminder

A timeline of upcoming bills has been added to the main overview page

A timeline of upcoming bills has been added to the Overview page


Note: For more on online personal financial management (OFM), see Online Banking Report (published May 2010).

Out of the Inbox: Bank of America’s "Irregular Credit Card Activity" Alert

image Several months ago (previous post), I wrote about Bank of America’s online fraud-warning resolution center for consumer cards, MyFraudProtection. It’s a great service, though a little hard to use.

At that time, I showed only the online functions. The more important piece is the email alert (below). It’s a great way not only to reduce fraud, but also maintain good customer relations.

But it’s still read-only. What I’m really waiting for is a truly two-way email, or better yet, text message. That way I can simply respond to the bank’s question in a few seconds and both of us can get on with our business. 

Email alert from Bank of America: Irregular Credit Card Activity (11 Jan. 2011)

Email alert from Bank of America: Irregular Credit Card Activity 


1. See our recent reports: Paperless Billing and Banking and Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel.

Account Alerts: Discover Card Helps Users Visualize the Options

image We are approaching the 15-year anniversary of the first retail banking account alert. Britton & Koontz Bank was the first to offer them in the summer of 1996 (note 1). But alerts didn’t become widely available until a few years later. 

Back then, you’d be lucky if you had three or four different alerts to choose from. And of course, there was no such thing as a mobile alert.

Today, banks and card issuers offer a dozen or more alert types capable of going to multiple email addresses, multiple mobile devices, or even to your land-line via voice message. Consumers are better served overall, but the wide range of options can be confusing.   

One solution is to use default selections. Users can select their preferred profile, and the bank establishes a set of recommended alerts. This profile selection could be made during online banking registration. For example:

  • Normal alerts
  • More alerts
  • Less alerts

Another helpful practice is to show examples so users can visualize what they are signing up for. Discover Card uses this technique in its card-management area with popups that show both the email and text-message version of each alert type (see screenshot below).

Alerts are a vital part of online and mobile banking, so take time to educate users on the appropriate mix (note 2). It’s also a great topic to cover in your blog or Twitter feed. 


Discover allows users to review samples of each alert type (28 April 2011)

Discover Card allows users to review samples of each alert type (28 April 2011)

1. Signet Bank was the first major to offer email account alerts. We covered it in OBR 22 (Feb 1997).
2. For more information on alerts and messaging, refer to this Online Banking Report published in 2003.

ING Direct Advertises on Email Alerts

image ING Direct (USA) has been a prominent sponsor within Mint’s online PFM. However, this is the first time I’ve noticed the bank advertising via email alert. And specifically, the direct bank is pitching its fee-free Electric Orange Checking account on the bottom of an email alert about a fee on my U.S. checking account. Excellent timing! 

It’s unusual to see an ad on a alert. I spot-checked a dozen or so during the past two months, and this is the only one with any direct marketing. But if it works, I’m sure we’ll see more of it. Context-sensitive advertising is what the Web has been built on. email “fee charged” alert (16 Feb. 2011) email alert that a fee was charged to my U.S. Bank business checking account

ING Direct landing page focusing on lower fees (link)

ING Direct landing page focusing on lower fees

Prioritizing Financial Information Flow

image I’m just finishing an enjoyable novel by Cory Doctorow, Makers. It chronicles two inventors operating in the United States 15 to 20 years from now (the actual time period is not revealed) after another economic/tech downturn, similar to the 1999/2000 dotcom crash.

Readers will recognize most of the technology and information services used, e.g., email, IM, blogs and Twitter. But Doctorow’s vision for these services a decade or two into the future is quite enlightening.

One area that’s much improved over today’s practices is the use of technology to prioritize the avalanche of information bombarding users. Here’s a passage from the book:

He’d been tuning his feed watchers…for nearly a decade, and this little PR item rang all the cherries on his filters, flagging the item red and rocketing it to the top of his news playlist, making all the icons on the sides of his screen bounce with delight.

imageAll you news junkies out there, isn’t that how you want your email/RSS/Twitter/ Facebook streams to work? The most-important info pops to the top and alerts you at the same time. Google is doing great work along these lines with its Priority Mailbox introduced in August (previous post), which now works on mobile phones as well (see inset).

Opportunity for Netbankers: I’m looking forward to the time when my bank, card issuer and/or third-party aggregator does the same for my finances and alerts me to odd transactions, excessive charges, and potential savings. And more importantly, helps me take action to resolve the issue.

But it can’t be delivered in a pile of email alerts sent every day. I tune those out. Just tell me about the IMPORTANT transactions triggering the “financial alarms” and keep mum about everything else. Thanks.

Certificate of Deposit Renewal Letters in the Digital Age

image Today I received a letter from a large credit union (note 1) informing me that my certificate of deposit was up for renewal. I was given six choices at the bottom of a form (note 2) along with a postage-paid return envelope. 

Had I received that letter in 1988, I would have considered it state of the art. But in the modern world of instant communications and researching rates via Google, the communication was inadequate and reflects poorly on the CU’s brand:

  • No current rate info: I realize that rates are subject to change and are miserably low, but at least tell me what they are today so I have some idea of what’s going on. While you are at it, remind me of what my rate was. Avoiding naming the specific rate is a huge red flag that yours is probably not so competitive. Plus, it’s irritating when it’s obvious how easy it would be to program current rates into the form letter. The CU did at least direct me to its website and call center to find current rates. However, the call center had no main menu option for rates, so you had to guess which number made the most sense. 
  • No email/call center option for choosing: The only way to communicate my investment choice is to return a postage-paid envelope. How about an email address, phone number of even a simple URL?
  • No email notification: I signed up for this account online, and the bank’s marketing messages arrive via email. Why didn’t I get an email asking me which option I prefer?
  • No clear info on what happens next: According to the fine print buried in the accompanying Truth-in-Savings disclosure, my certificate will automatically renew if I take no action. But nowhere in the main letter does it say that, nor is the deadline for taking action spelled out. The “current maturity date” is provided, but that’s using banking lingo that could be clearer.
  • No niceties (or even a sales pitch): The letter was bare bones with just two sentences and an info box about my CD (note 3). There was no salutation, no signature, no thank-you, no names of anyone at the CU, no local branch info, no encouragement to renew, and so on. 


1. As previously noted, we generally avoid posting the name of financial institutions that we criticize here; but we’ll privately tell readers so long as it’s not posted online (email me if you are curious).
2. The choices:
     A. Change term to 6, 12, 24 or 36 months (it was already 12 months, so that was a
          bit confusing, too). 
     B. Deposit to another account with a blank for writing in the account number
         (and no instructions on whether that had to be an account at the CU)
     C. Send a check for the balance (but with no ability to take a partial payout)
3. My CD is small ($500) and was set up online through a now-defunct third-party. So it’s very possible that there are different communications sent to larger CD holders, and/or those that were acquired by a specific branch.

Out of the Inbox: Lending Club’s “Idle Cash Alert”

image Lending Club, which recently surpassed $12 million in monthly P2P loan volume (see below), does a great job concisely communicating important account info. The startup earned an “A” in our recent report on transaction alerts (note 1).

Below is another example of its exemplary email alerts. In just 30 words, the company reinforces my impressive rate of return and my account balance. Then it seamlessly goes for the sale, encouraging me to put my cash balance to work by making more loans.

The only improvement I’d suggest is making the call to action, “Browse available Notes,” more prominent. First, it’s not clear that it’s a link. Second, what does that even mean? Ideally, it would be Lend Now, although I understand that terminology is not “SEC friendly,” so Invest Now, should work.  

Bottom line: It’s a win-win to provide encouragement every now and then about how customers might put their idle balances to work. Just don’t overdue it.

Lending Club “Idle Cash Alert” (27 Sep. 2010)


Lending Club loan volume: Aug. 2009 through Sep. 2010

Lending Club loan volume: Aug. 2009 through Sept. 2010

1. See previous post on OBR 181/182 published July 2010