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October 20, 2010 / Jim Fenton

Notifications: Timeliness is Critical

One of the services offered by my bank is customizable email and SMS notifications. The idea is to alert the customer to potential fraud when something infrequent or unexpected happens with their account. I think this is a great idea, so I signed up for a number of alerts.

I flew to Europe yesterday for a business trip. When I arrived in Amsterdam, I visited one of the ATM machines at the airport to obtain some Euros.  This was about 11 am local time on a weekday. This morning at 6:43 am, I received an SMS and an email message from the bank, because the ATM withdrawal had triggered one of these notifications. That’s right, the notification occurred almost 20 hours after the event.

Time is of the essence for many notifications like this one. If a fraudulent transaction is detected quickly, there might be a possibility of finding the culprit(s) before they move on. Had the transaction been fraudulent, I would have canceled my ATM card right away.  But in 20 hours, there is plenty of opportunity for the culprit to make more withdrawals.  I’m aware of the daily withdrawal limit, but in this case there was an additional day available in which to withdraw from my account.

Why the delay?  I don’t know.  I wonder if, rather than triggering the messages right away, there is perhaps a daily cron job or something that does the notifications.  I received a delayed notification several months ago, and the message was sent at a different time of day, so perhaps there is a different explanation.  In any case, my bank needs to get those notifications out right away when a notifiable event occurs.  I’ll see if there is a way to tell them that, but I’m not expecting them to make it easy to communicate with them directly.

One other issue:  The notification email contained five hyperlinks, mostly to the bank’s home page URL. This isn’t helpful at all, and it is a best practice for banks and other financial institutions not to use any hyperlinks in their email.  This in order to avoid training customers to click on links in email messages. Companies that are plagued by phishing attempts, including most banks, should know that already.

It doen’t rise to the level to cause me to take my business elsewhere, but if I accumulate enough stories about this bank, I’m walking.  I have done that before.

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