Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Horrors of Online Banking

At the risk of sounding like I’m technophobic, distrustful of the Internet, and terrified of online money transactions… I am indeed starting to find online banking and online payments rather worrisome to some extent. It’s not that I’m afraid of online banking or online payments. I’ve been living on the Internet for long enough, I’ve done banking online and shopped online for some time. But a couple of bad experiences this year has got me thinking that some of these systems are really screwed up.

You’d expect things to get better over time, particularly since online banking and online payments are getting quite common-place. But silly things still happen from time to time.

First, it is a letter I received from M1 informing me that a certain credit card payment I had made has failed. Well… as an IT person myself, I can understand things break now and then. Except that in this case, it was about a payment in mid-October 2010, and this letter informing me about the payment problem was dated end-February 2011. So I called M1 to enquire, and they confirmed that it was that payment over 4 months ago that failed.

You know, the whole idea of online banking and online payments is about instant real-time transactions. It seemed so incredulous that M1 would inform about a payment failure over 4 months late. I quizzed the customer service representative for more details… like how could this be possible, how is it that M1’s subsequent bill confirmed payment was received, and those for the following months did not state any monies owed to them. But all they can tell me is that, well, the system only just reported that the payment failed. They insisted that I call my bank to confirm that the payment did not go through. (Why is it always the customer who has to chase down these problems?) Fine, though completely unsatisfied, I considered the episode closed.

Then in mid-March 2011, I received my usual M1 bill, and found two payment reversals. Okay, I called M1 again. I was told again for some strange reason my February bill payment failed. Again, they insisted I should contact my bank. I decided to settle the outstanding amount on the phone, hung up, then checked my bank statements. To my surprise, the February payment was indeed debited from my bank! So, I called M1 again. After much checking, they explained that the problem wasn’t with the February payment, but that my mid-October 2010 payment had failed twice, hence they needed to reverse twice!

My goodness! This is now a payment that is like 5 months old. Why is this so obfuscated?

This time the customer service representative tried to explain the situation by suggesting that the problem was with my bank’s internet banking portal. Ha! I retorted that I had always been paying directly on M1’s own website. Whatever “system problems” there are, it is really with M1 themselves… don’t try to push the blame to some other bank.

Can you just imagine the payment situation. You make a payment online. The online system accepts and confirms payment. Your subsequent bill also confirms the payment has been made. Then, 4 – 5 months later, you are told the payment failed?

Hello… online payment system that takes 4 – 5 months to realize that a previous transaction it had already accepted and acknowledged actually didn’t occur?

Okay, how about another problem.

I made a credit card payment with a US merchant. They are primarily a B2B type of business, so they didn’t actually have an online payment portal. They just process credit-card transactions manually. Well, my payment was declined. Rather embarrassing. The message on the merchant’s credit card terminal said that I (card holder) needed to call the bank to “confirm the charge”. Fine. I called my bank. My bank told me the transaction was declined, because the card processing system was down for maintenance daily from 3am to 3:30am (Singapore time). Okay, I told them, now that I tell you this charge is valid, can you just go ahead and process the charge, like what the message on the merchant’s credit card terminal said? No luck. My bank says the transaction has been declined, and it’s final. They tell me to not make credit card payments from 3am to 3:30am (Singapore time).

I was super surprised. In this day and age, everyone carries credit cards, people travel the world, people make payments any time day and night. Not so much that I want to pay at 3am, but it could well be 3pm in, say, New York. What if I have a train to catch and needed to urgently pay for a train ticket?

This reminds me of a certain local bank whose ATM machines used not to dispense cash at a certain time of the night (or rather, wee hours of the morning). I don’t know if it is still the case. This might not be so bad, since, after all you could reason that the likelihood of an ATM withdrawal at, say, 3am is quite unlikely. But hey, credit card payments can happen from anywhere in the world!

Anyway, moving on, again another issue with credit card payment. (Actually it is the same merchant and same bank as above.) So, recall, this is an overseas B2B company. I pay for $X sum, bank sends an SMS to notify payment charged to my card for $Y sum. Y was less than X, just a little, and I assumed that perhaps the merchant subequently applied a small discount, possibly due to adjusted shipping rate when the order was finally processed. I paid little attention to it, until I saw my credit card statement that $X was charged. Hmm. I checked my SMS again, it really did say $Y.

Obviously, this certain local bank (alright, it’s UOB) has got some problems with their credit card system. ($X and $Y were specified in US$, so it is not a problem of currency conversion.)

There’s more, but I won’t talk about them here. The point is this. I’ve been banking online, paying bills online, etc. Things have worked pretty well in the past. But nowadays, problems are starting to show up. Is it the pressure of making everything online that is driving systems to be build faster than they can be properly designed and tested?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View Comment Policy