Celebrating a small win while banking with a traditional bank shouldn’t feel so extraordinary, should it? Story by Duena Blomstrom.

Regulation – one of the most heated (and arguably hated) words in banking. While it’s there to protect our collective money, it’s also the scapegoat for all the things we failed the consumer with. Over the years, most of the CX wish list was met with the famous “computer says no” in a regulatory flavour: “No, international transfers can’t be faster/instant – regulation won’t allow it”; “No, you can’t see all your account information in one place – it’s regulation”; “No you can’t bank through Facebook”, and on and on.

It’s not till very recently that we have turned the rhetoric around and started thinking of regulation as a partner, made it sexy and useful – an enabler. ‘Regtech’ as a term was born, and fintech started giving banks fancy solutions that cared about translating stiff regulation put in place to protect into seamless, easy experiences for the consumer.

Most of regulation plays in the background and it’s designed to define processes and systems in a way that will keep our data and money safe and (ideally) growing.

Some of it is evident to the consumer. If we disregard the digital-onboarding-pain elephant in the room, there are only a handful of other instances that we brush up with regulation in day-to-day banking. Accepting terms of service, interminable letters with well-crafted PR explanations on changes of policies and interminable security checks in any call centre interaction are examples of irritations caused by regulation, but arguably the worst offender is the practice of card blocking.

One doesn’t have to be in fintech to know that, if a bank blocks one’s card, it’s to stop usage because fraud is suspected. We can sit here and debate if that’s necessary, and whether it shouldn’t be covered by financial insurance products, but what I wanted to dissect is two of my recent experiences with NatWest, my bank.

First up – travelling. How can banking fail you when you travel? Let me count the ways. The most common one is that your card gets blocked as soon as your bank sees transactions coming from a destination outside of your country of origin. Oftentimes, this means you end up frowning at a machine that says your transaction was declined when trying to settle your hotel room bill.

How bad that is ranges from a minor inconvenience to a major snafu depending on factors such as how worldly a traveller you are, what the state of your finances and assistance infrastructure is (i.e. if your parents/spouse/assistant can bail you out or not) and what your prior-to-failed-MoneyMoment™ stress level is.

For most people, that’s a rather fringe use case, as there are no hotel bills to pay on a weekly basis. But if you travel as much as I have over the past 10 years, this is a very clear and present annoyance. As I was saying in my ‘Goodbye Santander – the end of a banking love affair‘ last year, I would often be on the phone with them at least once a week to warn them I would be travelling and would need access to my funds.

After our rather public divorce, I’ve “swiped left” on many a banking proposition – some from the ever-celebrated challengers, because they were unable to accommodate my “I’m travelling and don’t want to call you every time to warn you” need, and have finally settled down with NatWest, who let me input the data of my future travel plans in my app.

NatWest Going Abroad. Image by Duena Blomstrom.The experience is far from perfect. In fact, just the other day it presented me with a screen that looks nothing short of a riddle, and made me recall the rules for setting new online banking passwords most banks used to lay out back in the day: “Must start with a capital. Must not be a capital your paternal aunt would be able to guess on a Sunday, or the same capital used to spell the number you are required to insert as the 3rd character.”

This post would have went to great lengths to underline how wrong it is of NatWest to lay out their regulatory requirements in the form of this riddle in lieu of dealing with the legacy systems (or rules that have caused it), should they not have saved their bacon in terms of card blocking with another recent experience, and the second reason to block cards: suspicious transactions.

I’m on the phone with a children’s soft play centre to book my son’s upcoming birthday party while in a taxi ride to the airport the other day, when I realise that the venue has a series of unfortunate circumstances such as “not enough laser guns” and “not enough staff to supervise”, yadda yadda, that will essentially mean I either alienate half our friends or half his classmates. So I decide to work with their parameters and book two separate parties one after the other on the day to fit everyone.

“Right, lovely, may I have the long card number please?”

“Sure, it’s 472 …”

“No, Mrs Blomstrom, please wait. I need to transfer you to the secure card input syst …”

“Sure, go ahead.”

<Series of clicks.>

“Mrs Blomstrom, could you input the long card number into your phone, followed by #?”

“4723 6452 6543 7542 *”

“That was incorrect, ma’am.”

“Oh FFS … 4723 6452 6543 7542 #”

“Lovely, now your expiration date and the next one will be the CVC code on the back of your card.”

<Series of anxious stabs followed by dramatic silence.>

“Right, this is all fine. Your deposit went through,” the lady tells me as I wipe the sweat off my brow that encompasses all that’s wrong with modern payment methods and the deep angst they cause.

“Now for the deposit of the second party, you know the drill now Mrs Blomstrom. Just please input your card details.”

So I proceed to do so, and this time I get the “#” not “*” right the first time and it’s going smugly well with still several miles before we’re at the airport according to my Uber driver’s Waze. Technology rocks!

“Hmmm, I’m sorry, ma’am. This didn’t go through. Would you like to try again?”

“What?! Let me see … ” I forgo privacy and stick the call on ‘speaker’ while I scrutinise the numbers I’ve typed against the card I’m holding, waves of “I knew this would be painful after all!” self-defeatism washing over me.

Everything looks spot-on, but as she insists – and against rationality and in pure “just try again, you never know with technology” fashion – I get the digits in again.

“Same thing, I’m afraid. Rejected. Do you have another card we could try?” she says in that unmistakeable “Let’s face it, you ran out of money, anyone else who believed you were solvent enough to give you some credit?” voice. I *know* she’s wrong and I won’t give in to pressure to give her another card when I have proudly saved for this moment, so I go to my NatWest app half sure it’s a futile enterprise because the UK telco industry hasn’t exactly worked out how to let one use 3G and be on the call simultaneously, but this time it works – “Perchance thanks to roaming?” I find myself wondering – and I get into the app.

As expected, I’m not missing funds, so I must be missing the way to reach them.

“Wow hold on, they must have blocked my card because I’m travelling – let me check,” I say to an ever more impatient call centre employee as I log into my phone messages, and lo and behold I do have a text saying these last transactions have been suspicious and would I like to approve them.

I try to breathe in and not get angry while I wonder why that is – Luxembourg transactions being an issue despite my having warned them through the app or the kids’ leisure centre trying payments too close to each other as I absentmindedly send the ‘Y’ they require if I recognise the transactions and want them to go through, knowing full well that it’s likely a futile strategy for this call as it will take forever to reinstate access.

“Yes, sorry, my bank blocked the card. Must be my overseas transactions. I’ll have to call you back.”

“You’re still on the secure line, ma’am. You could input another card,” she says, and I hear the click back to the digits section. Determined not to give in to pressure of the credit card industry on an expense I planned, I stubbornly get the same card details in – no less motivated by how I can’t be bothered to fish for another card when I’m holding this one and we’re pulling in by the airport’s curb.

“Excellent, ma’am, thank you. This went through just fine!” Her unexpectedly chirpy voice startles me and I look down to see a text from NatWest of a few seconds ago thanking me for the confirmation and reassuring me that my card is fine to use.

Every ounce of dread and irritation melt into sheer elation! This is witchcraft! Pure technology magic! I was able to complete my MoneyMoment™ and NatWest actually were looking out for me, and eventually came through y’all! I feel like Facebook status-ing about it!

Should it feel like we won the lottery when a banking experience goes the way it should and is only half-painful? Of course not, but hey, I slew the anti-spend demons and prevailed in using my funds on-the-go while regulation was (nearly) in the background keeping me safe, so that’s a win for digital banking everywhere!

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– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Photo by Neng, Shutterstock.com

About the author

Duena Blomstrom

Duena Blomstrom is an independent digital banking consultant, an entrepreneur and VC, a mentor for Startupbootcamp and Techstars, an uncomfortably opinionated blogger, and a public speaker at industry events.

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