I hate them.

Trivia: when I was starting university I needed a student account. I applied for one and got rejected. When I queried why I was rejected, they said it was because I had no credit history. S-T-U-D-E-N-T account.

A cynical person might suggest that banks just want to hang on to your money and not let you get at it, but this is an incomplete analysis of the situation. Not only do they not want you to get at your money you have entrusted to them, they also don’t seem to want to let you give them any money in the first place. The banks’ idea of the perfect market is presumably one in which nobody exists. The system is simply baffling. It’s a pathetic reflection on human society that our economic system is powered by a tiny minority of people who seem to fulfil no obvious purpose but to make life as difficult as possible for themselves and everyone else whilst tinkering with an artificial system of our own making which they can barely predict in any useful fashion.

I opened a new savings account with a bank last week. That was actually fine. The problems came with my other two accounts. I requested to upgrade my old fashioned current account to an online account. Firstly I tried to follow the online process they emailed me about a while ago (question: how did they get my email address?) but it asked me for a telephone security number, which I didn’t have because my account wasn’t accessible by telephone. But it did say I could reset it by phoning some number. So I did that and a robot asked me some questions, the third of which was “what is your telephone security number?”. Failure to enter the number correctly resulted in the robot saying “I’m sorry, that is not correct, please enter your telephone security number”. Somebody actually got paid to design this system.

Anyway I eventually got them to send me this stupid number, and so I went through the process again, tried to sign up… “we’re sorry, for security reasons we have temporarily disabled access to your account”. Remember at this point I didn’t even *have* an online account, I was still just trying to enable it, but no, somewhere between sending me the information I needed to enable the account and my actually attempting to enable it, they had helpfully disabled it. I had to phone them up again before I could open it. I cannot begin to imagine what kind of ridiculous logic they used for this.

The account is now the most impractical thing you can imagine. It’s with HSBC. I have to use a hardware token to log in, which looks like a pocket calculator. As well as entering several codes and passwords, I have to switch on this stupid calculator thing, ask it for a number, then enter this number into the website. One day it will break or the battery will die or I will lose it, and then I’ll be locked out of my account. I have no idea how it works. If I was to implement something like this I’d embed a unique ID and a pseudo-random number generator onto the hardware, then to generate codes I’d seed the PRNG with the time and the ID, and draw the number. The server can implement the same logic itself to verify the numbers. Except I wouldn’t do that because after a few months the clock will drift hopelessly out of step with the server’s. But I bet that’s how it works anyway.

Here’s the deal HSBC: I’ll put up with it for now but if it ever causes me problems and I can’t log in, I am going to fill out an application for a different bank before I contact you.

According to Google’s autocomplete, other people share my opinion of it (check the 5th one):

After getting all that working, I decided to check my old savings account to see how many cobwebs it had gathered. So I tried to log in and… “user ID expired”!. What! For ‘security’ they expire usernames which haven’t been accessed for a while. That’s right, they add ‘security’ to the accounts NOBODY IS TRYING TO GET INTO. I had to phone them up too and politely ask them if it would be too much trouble to let me access my own money. It turns out it wasn’t too much trouble at all, which disappointed me at the time because by that point I was rather psyched up to sue a bank. Anyway, they now have £0 of my money and this figure is unlikely to change.


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