Ripe for Disruption: Bank Authentication

One thing that still drives me crazy, and doesn’t seem to have changed with banks, is they way they handle fraud detection with the customer. Their sophisticated algorithms detect fraudulent activity, they flag it, suspend the card, and give you a call, leaving a message identifying themselves as your bank and asking you to call back a number — which is not on the back of the credit card you have.

So, if you’re like me, you call back the number given in the voice message and have this conversation:

Hello this is Bank A’s fraud detection team, how can I help you today?
Hi, quoting reference 12345.
Thank you, I need some verification details first. Do yo have your credit card details to hand?
I do, but this number I was asked to call was not on the back of my card, so I need some evidenc from you that you are who you say you are first.
Unfortunately, I don’t have anything that would help there.

So then you have to call the number on the card, and then get passed from pillar to post until you reach the right person.

How is this still the case in 2016, and why have no thoughtful disruptive folk thought up an alternative? Could this be done on the blockchain (only half sarcastic here)? I’d love to see banks, or anyone, doing this better.

A simple one would be for them to have a safe word for each client, I should think, which confirms to me that they are who they say they are. It seems silly that they can’t give some information — it doesn’t even have to be private information — that would show who they are, but only a customer would know.

Technology And The Decline Of Service

As the world develops, and technology gets better, will we forget the essence of relations between two people: how to serve?

I live in Indonesia right now, which is probably the service capital of the world. Not necessarily in terms of expertise, and certainly not in terms of quality of goods (despite having some of the best carvers in the world, don’t count on it extending to a sofa, table or cabinet you have made for you). But Indonesians working in hotels, restaurants and shops are among some of the most attentive, helpful and flexible I’ve ever come across. They’re polite, helpful, genuinely friendly and show extraordinary flexibility, given the poor training and wages they usually receive. A five-star hotel in Indonesia has probably the best level of service in the world.

But all this will eventually change, just as it has changed in the West. In communist and former communist countries the quality of service was undermined by poor training, poor wages and low motivation. But this is true of any bureaucratic set up — and it’s true in Indonesia, proving that while quality of service can be tied to the emphasis, or lack of it, on hospitality to strangers in a culture, it’s not the only factor. An Indonesian bureaucrat can be as awful as a North Korean or Russian.

As technology forces more self-service upon us, so too will these bastions of good service pass. From supermarkets to gas stations, from airports to help-lines, the notion of one human serving another is gradually disappearing. Some will think this is a good thing, mistaking service for subservience. A waiter is only subservient if the customer makes him so. There is dignity in service and only a boorish and overly demanding customer undermines that dignity. I worked in a bookshop for three years and loved every minute of it, making customers happy by matching them with the tomes they sought, the only blotches being rude customers who didn’t understand that we loved (and read) books as much as they.

So as technology replaces humans in these interactions, what happens to us? We end up stuck on the end of automated telephone lines, sending emails into a customer service abyss, increasingly alienated from corporations that spend all their money on saying how personalised their services are (one bank keeps talking about how it understands local customs, but when I complained they had failed to complete a telegraphic transfer to a bank in another country, they asked me for the bank’s telephone number. How much understanding of local conditions does that reveal?)

Finally, I fear that the decline of service will make us as humans increasingly remote from one another. Some things are indeed best automated, but humans are hard-wired to communicate with other humans. It’s what keeps us sane. But as service becomes self-service, I fear we will just become more selfish, like those people who overfill their plates at all-you-can-eat buffets. Serving — and being served — are what keep us civilised.