Online Banking UI Aims to Trick Us Into Borrowing

Online banking interfaces seem to be getting better all the time. I really appreciate being able to pay my bills and transfer money between checking, savings, and even my line of credit from the comfort of my couch, at all hours of the day or night. Through continuous interface improvements, it’s always seemed like the bank was aiming purely for customer satisfaction, hoping I would enjoy the experience so much that I would want to continue banking with them, and I might even tell all my friends. Until now.

Now there’s a new “feature” designed to make it easy for us to spend money we don’t have. They’ve made it so easy, in fact, that the unsuspecting among us might even do it by accident. The feature in question is a new pull-down list next to each payee allowing me to select which account to pay them from, and -– here’s the clincher: this list includes my equity line of credit. (Interestingly, the option is only available for credit card and auto insurance payees at the moment.) Before, if I wanted to take the plunge and pay off credit with credit, I had to make the effort of transferring the funds from the equity line to the checking account first: an extra set of clicks complicated enough to cause me to stop and reconsider.

As if that weren’t sleazy enough, when setting up a first-time payee, I’m now presented with a list of accounts from which to regularly pay them, and the default is the equity line. I wonder what percentage of unsuspecting users will blow right through this step not even noticing that the UI has changed, and start paying their bills with money they don’t have. Until suddenly they don’t even have that any more.  And they owe it all back to the bank.  With interest.  Ka-ching.

Like credit card bills that make it impossible to locate the payment due date, and list the full balance due in tiny font on the opposite side from the boldly displayed minimum balance, banks are now designing online interfaces to serve their own best interests, not yours or mine. Be careful out there.

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