s11e09: A short conversation with a bank
0.0 Context setting
It's Saturday, March 5th 2022 and I can't help myself, so here's an edited and revised version of an imaginary conversation I had earlier this week1:
1.0 A short conversation with, and about, a bank
About ten years ago:
bank: hey, you can get digital statements now, wanna go paperless?
you: hey awesome great
you: hm, I need that statement from 2016
bank: we deleted it
you: are you fucking kidding me
bank: yeah we deleted it
you: you... you deleted the statement from 2016
bank: uh huh yep
you: but it was a digital statement
you: it was a pdf
you: but I still need it
bank: ok well let us think about it--
you: you put me on fucking hold
bank: ok we got you
you: this better be good
bank: ok, send us a letter or call up our call center but not our regular call center, a special call center, and we'll send you a copy in the mail and maybe charge you for it, and it'll arrive whenever, you know. hope it's not urgent
you: fucking computers and fucking businesses
Time passes. Later, but also maybe just the next day:
you: hey bank, I wanna pay someone
bank: awesome! we love paying someone. have you tried using our new bill pay feature?
you: I guess? Is it some new third party service you use that half works?
bank: try our new bill pay feature!
you: ok, I guess I'll try your new bill pay feature
Tries to make a payment. It fails.
you: well that didn't work
While trying to make a payment again
you: ok, still not working. way to completely meet my already low expectations, bank.
While trying to fuzz the payment amount (Fuzzing a payment amount would be trying different payment amounts to see if the failure is related to the input provided):
you: ok got it, there's an undeclared, private limit to the amount you can trans-
bank: we've frozen your bill pay feature, please call customer service
Shortly, while calling customer service:
you: hi, is this bank customer service?
customer service agent: no, this is not bank customer service, this is third party bill pay service that bank uses but you can totally trust us
you: of course it is
customer service agent: what can we help you with?
you: well firstly it's your terrible business processes and how you've implemented them in software and the design of those workflows which clearly have never gone through any appreciable user testing and instead have implemented, by checkbox, "is it technically possible, if someone spends enough time, and understands the arcane uncommunicated rules, for someone to arrange the transfer of money from one account, to another", and also your content design of course, an-
customer service agent: sir, this isn't a wendy's you want the other thread
you: ok I tried to make a payment and I assume I hit a limit you never told me about, please change it
customer service agent: ok great to raise your limit you need to talk to your bank
you: of course I do
yes, I can't do that for you, you need to talk to your bank
you: you do know your bill pay service gave me this number to call
A pause for a long, painful sigh:
you: yes of course I need to call my fucking bank. I'm sorry. I'm not mad at you. It's just that all of us have so little agency in this world now. It's exhausting. Would you like to join me in screaming at the voi-
customer service agent: would you be able to participate in a customer satisfaction survey to provide feedback on how we did after this call?
you: if I don't give you a good rating in this survey will you get fired?
customer service agent: yes
you: ok yes, I will participate in a customer satisfaction survey to provide feedback on how you did after this call and also fuck your employer and fuck how business works
customer service agent: thank you, you have a great day now
you: I'm sorry
Next, calling your bank:
bank customer service agent: hello, this is bank!
you: you'd better fucking fix this
bank customer service agent: sorry what
you: ok well, the entire economic system underpinning western hegemony, the inability of "business" to prioritize long-term stability over short-term profit incentives, the intentional ignorance of any negative externalities, the way "increasing shareholder value" is treated like some sort of natural law like gravity or an unalterable immutable imperative when actually it's what a bunch of people just happened to decide-
bank customer service agent: sir,
you: I need my bill payment limit raised
bank customer service agent: okay I've done that for you is there anything else I can help you with?
you: no thanks
bank customer service agent: okay grea-
you: wait. is there anything I can help you with...
bank customer service agent: ...
you: like, say, unionization?
bank: sir this conversation is recorded but I blinked my eyes very slowly twice
you: I understand you
some idiot, interjecting in this imaginary conversation: sir, may I interest you in our pamphlet, superbowl ad with a QR code which later precipitated a fight with one of the best ad agencies in the world when the crypto CEO claimed to come up with the idea all by themselves, an influencer campaign on tiktok, a coordinated media blitz by CAA, the creative artists agency, the most powerful group of agents in the world, and numerous twitter threads about our lord and savior crypto, who will save you from this hell you're going through?
you: you again. fuck off. off you fuck. fuck off so far you're a tiny fucking dot.
a google product manager, watching this imaginary conversation and stressed out about their OKRs: hey you know how we like do smart parsing of email in gmail and extract structured data like flight numbers, hotel reservations, delivery tracking IDs and so on from peoples' email? What if we also did that but for financial data and also for everything people stored in Google Drive
you: Google Drive, where you do copyright takedowns on files containing just the number "1"
google product manager: ...
you: Google Drive, where you do copyright takedowns on files named .ds_store, automatically created by Macs
google product manager: ...
you: ... with Gmail, where you were so aggressive about mining receipt data from Amazon that when I get a receipt from Amazon now it doesn't actually include what I bought because Amazon are terrified you'll use that data to profile me and sell more ads
google product manager: ...
google product manager: ...yeah but it'd be great right, and it might increase engagement and I might get a promotion?
you: are you fucking kidding me no
google product manager: also a chat app
someone on at a place in which you will never find a more wretched hive of disruption and innovation, but also called hacker news: hey we should found a startup that automatically logs into peoples' bank accounts and downloads their statements and then stores them on amazon s3 in a badly configured bucket that's ultimately publicly accessible to the entire world and then when that happens blame amazon for an opaque and insecure management tool but instead it's obviously our fault for moving fast and breaking things
you: no don't do that
another person in that same thread: no seriously this is a legit product opportunity and also if banks had open APIs then this would create competitive pressure for financial institutions and banks to innovate in the area and-
you: also, you know, as a society, we could decide that access to archived financial information is important given how critical it is to participating in the economy and also the banks should keep the fucking pdfs and let you download them and not fucking delete them
another person, ignoring you, because that kind of regulation would be bad and restrict innovation and disruption: no, what we should do is reinvent the entire financial system from first principles
Meanwhile, at Dropbox:
newly minted MBA ex-consultant who's just started working at Dropbox as a product manager: and here is my presentation about why it is imperative for us to expand from file synchronization and, for some reason, password management, into financial service integration through our automated financial information archival tool, and then ultimately into financial services, which will strengthen our moat against competition from other file synchronization services
you: also no
newly minted MBA ex-consultant who's just started working at Dropbox as a product manager: but we need to offer you new features so we can charge you more
you: I just wanted to synchronize some files across some computers
newly minted MBA ex-consultant who's just started working at Dropbox as a product manager: but you're annoyed about your bank
you: just stay in your fucking lane
newly minted MBA ex-consultant who's just started working at Dropbox as a product manager: how about we do password management
you: oh fuck off please, I already feel like I'm held hostage by you
you: you know, all I wanted to do was move money from one account, at a bank, to another of my accounts, at another bank
someone from the UK: haha, you live in America
you: don't. fucking. rub. it. in.
you: you know what, bank, if you offered annual PDF statements I could download that would be great
bank: it would, wouldn't it
you: you should do that
bank: instead you can get all your transaction data as a csv, an xlsx, or an ofx or whatever Quicken or Microsoft Money thing
you: is Microsoft Money even still a thing-
you: wait, I just tried and your transaction data only goes back so far anyway, but it does go slightly further than the PDF statements you deleted
bank: yeah, great right?
you: ok though, you understand the reason why I need a statement?
you: It's because our society operates on trust which is mediated by various signals between individuals and institutions, and one such signal is that there is an artifact which used to be on paper and delivered by mail with a bunch of numbers on it and that paper has my address on it and a picture of your logo and looks like you made it and now it's a pdf
bank: yes sir
you: you see where I'm going
you: ok well is it technically illegal if I take all that transaction data and then automate transforming and reformatting it into PDFs that are indistinguishable from an actual PDF statement issued by you, ending up with statements recreated from transaction data that where I can't access the "original statement"?
bank: would you like a mortgage?
you: ok I'm doing it anyway
the electronic frontier foundation: hi, did someone call asking for help before they get sued or arrested?
Later, on that same place in which you will never find a more wretched hive of disruption and innovation, but also called hacker news:
a disruptor: show hn: I couldn't get historical bank statements so here's a Github repo for turning your exported transaction data into reproductions bank statements and I've also created a plugin system with templates for the top n North American banks by total number of customers
disruptors and innovators: oh hey cool
another disruptor, replying: but did you write it in rust
another disruptor, replying: we should recreate the entire financial system from first principles
another disruptor, replying: hodl!
you: will you all of you just fucking stop
A flashback, from years ago:
a startup: hey you know what
a startup: you know how getting statements is hard
a startup: and you know how you like paying for things
you: well I don't like it but it's something I have to d-
a startup: well also you know how you like emoji
you: again they just exist it's not like I especially love the-
a startup: and how you send emoji to people
you: again yes but I don't see what-
a startup: and how sometimes to pay for things other people pay for them so you pay them back for stuff like pizza or weed
you: yes, this is a thing people do
a startup: well you can pay people now using our app and use an emoji for the description
you: ok well that's not entirely stup-
a startup: and we've made it so when you pay someone you tell every single person in the whole world
you: are you fucking kidding me
a startup: so now everyone can recreate your statement
you: that's not how this works
a startup: yes it is
you: no. stop
Cut to present day:
a startup: remember us?
you: unfortunately yes
a startup: we're a verb now
bank: hey guess what
bank: we have a chat app now
you: you sent me a fucking letter about this
While downloading a statement
bank: this is the chat app we told you about!
you: does it let me download my statements from 2016
bank: it looks like you want to download your latest monthly statement!
you: fuck the fuck off
bank: we do crypto now too
the wall street journal: bank leads innovation race with crypto chatbot implementation
A few months later:
trendy bank that didn't think hard enough: oh hey
you, narrowing eyes: what
trendy bank: we heard you were having problems with statements
you: oh no
trendy bank: so we're going to mail you a usb stick with all your statements on it, tell all your frie-
you: oh the fuck no don't do that
trendy bank: too late
A few months later, again, during a zoom call
your mum: hey are you busy
you: kind of, I'm at work in a meeting. Is it urgent?
your mum: dad plugged in this usb stick we got from our bank even though I said not to and now we have no money
you: it wasn't from the bank it was from scammers I'm coming home and gluing shut all the ports on everything jesus fuck why did we invent computers
Several months from now:
you, doing a keynote, when we do keynotes again: so this is a story about how applying digital to a broken process results in a broken digital process--
also you, but in therapy the next day: nothing I do ever changes how do I accept this reality
Okay, that's was it! I had fun writing it, I had fun revising it, now I'm going to go have the rest of my weekend.
If you enjoyed this and it made you laugh/cry/question your career choice, then please consider2:
- sharing with your friends! (blergh); or
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Again, thank you! How are you doing?