Thursday, June 01, 2006


Online Banking Lock-in and the Double WAMU

Jon Udell's critique of his online banking service was posted just a few minutes after I had a frustrating experience with my own online bank. I have an account with Washington Mutual, but not by choice. WAMU bought the bank that bought the bank that bought the bank I started with 10 years ago when I moved to San Francisco, and it just seemed like too much effort to change banks even though the bigger the bank got the worse service I seemed to get.

And service has gotten worse with online banking. Today I was paying a stack of bills and after I'd entered about 10 payments I needed to check something so I stupidly hit the back arrow on my browser, which erased all my work. A minute after I tediously re-entered my payments the phone rang and I spoke for 10 or 15 minutes, just long enough for WAMU to give me more great online service by logging me off (I guess that's a double WAMU).

I would change banks tomorrow if I could somehow avoid having to re-enter the account and address information for the few dozen payees, because the thought of that wasted effort keeps me locked into a bank I have come to hate. I write and teach extensively about information modeling and interoperability and it just makes me angry to see how so often people get screwed by companies that don't give much thought to either, or that use proprietary data formats to lock them in.

Like Jon's bank, WAMU seems to make changes to its online banking that shift work to its customers. One that is particularly annoying is a recent change to the URL for the login page.

Old URL:
New URL:

So I needed to change the bookmark link. Some directive must have come down from on-high that required the programmers of the online banking system to put more emphasis on Identity Management rather than just logging-in. But couldn't they just use the same login page?

-Bob Glushko

Long ago I started using Yahoo's Bill Pay service. This was long before my bank, Bank of America, offered a reasonable online service. While it's a paid service, it allows me two things my online banking does not:

1) The ability to change bank accounts at while, and only have to change the settings in Yahoo's Bill Pay.

2) The ability to designate not when a payment is sent out, but when a payment arrives.

But the lesson is, I have to pay for it.
I've been using Paytrust for a longtime. Paytrust scans bills from payees that don't present ebills. So you are able to get ALL bills online. You can also pay from multiple accounts. I never thought about the ability to upload/download payee info. The bank I work at has a fairly complex application for managing payees, but they don't seem to use any standards. However, bill pay is a profitable product, so someone offering a web serice to handle payee validation and management might have a new business on their hands, though I'm not sure this would solve your problem as a consumer; that is, the bank still wants to keep you ensnared and paying, so there is not much incentive on their side to make it easier for you to pull up stakes and move.

I've heard recently that BofA is using Yodlee and web services to do some interesting new things:

--see A Personal Finance Portal, Part I & II at
Someday there will be "consumer data bill of rights" that will mandate that information created by a consumer must be made available on demand to them if they want to take it somewhere else. That will probably happen at the same time that the rest of the bill of rights is re-activated. I think we've lost at least the 4th amendment in the last 6 years.
Thanks for oyur insights. Online banking still has a lot of confidence building to do to convince the older generation that it is safe to use. You can read about online banking on my blog.
Hello! I like your blog. How do you like financial institutions? Do you like that there is such an incredible amount of these companies? On the one hand it is great that you have a choice, but on the other hand it makes you feel lost in this large number of companies. If it is a problem of choice then ask a friend about the experience or go to and read the customers’ feedbacks. Consider WAMU, for example.
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