There has been a very aggravating trend lately with banking sites.  More and more banks are finally joining the rest of the world a number of years later, by updating their web sites to support mobile devices.  Not completely surprising, considering bankers are the most overly conservative group on the planet.

But without fail so far, each time they update their web site they somehow screw up the data export function.  It’s the one thing that doesn’t need updating because it is does not affect the display, and yet they mess with it.  It negatively impacts the one thing which automation is supposed to do: leverage time, not cause more human intervention to make things work.

So far, here is the list:

  • Now allows html-encoded characters to appear in the data, so AT&T shows up as AT&T.  Impact: financial applications don’t see the Payee as the same and, therefore, will not detect duplicate (i.e. already registered) transactions.
  • Arbitrarily threw in lines called Total with blank values in the date column.  Each one of the entries had an equivalent accounting-standard form, which would appear with a date it occurred.  It wasn’t a “total interest” entry: it was a dated “interest charged” entry or a dated “purchase rebate” entry.  And a bank which lives by accounting standards did this?
  • (again): Now disallows a specific date range (last 30, last 60, custom date) for the export, and forces the transactions to be downloaded only for a specific statement.  Impact: transactions which aren’t necessary are downloaded from a statement, and a larger date range (60 days or more) causes a fragmented effort: more than one download to get the data, and manual editing to remove the unwanted transactions.
  • They didn’t mess with the format per se, but when the time change occurred, the time of the transaction date changed with the time change.  If it is not apparent what’s wrong with this, a transaction on June 1st at 6:00PM still occurred on June 1st at 6:00PM, even when the data is exported on November 15th after the time change.  To Ally Bank’s credit, they quickly fixed this in a later update to their software.  Not so surprisingly, they were the one company which did not respond to me with a canned email.

I am sure there have been other banking institutions beyond these who are doing this, and I have reported all of these issues to the institutions as I discovered them.  The reactions to reporting the error are met with the usual customer service canned response: “Thank you for reporting this issue.  We are forwarding it to our technical staff for review.”  (Ally being an exception as listed above).

Having spent a good portion of my computing career in the data exchange world, I get particularly irate when I see these export formats change.  Data exchange formats exist to do one thing: spare humans the redundant effort of re-entering data already done by another human, and removing the potential for introducing error in the process.  It’s one of the core examples of productivity, accuracy, and good use of time.  That’s what automation is all about.  Changes in these formats cause a lot of grief and unnecessary work reconfiguring software which imports them, if the import hasn’t broken the process outright (as Tower Federal’s above did).

I am truly stunned that the industry which is most conservative to change, the banking industry, would allow such haphazard changes to this as part of a web site upgrade.  It appears that somehow they crossed the streams and made exports a target of improvement with the web site, and probably even saw the export as something that a human uses–not an automated process.

And for that I say shame on them.  If you work in the banking industry, point this out to the management.  The exports are supposed to be verbatim reflections of the entries in the banks journal, and they are supposed to be available for any time frame on demand.  They are not intended for decoration to please humans, and need to be left alone.