On a chilly Manhattan day in late November, I was opening up a white postcard-sized piece of mail in my apartment, expecting the contents to contain a jury summons, a Banana Republic coupon or a medical bill owed.
Much to my surprise and delight, it was none of those things. Rather, the paper contained a gift resulting from my former financial institution relationship with Bank of America. Indeed, in the envelope was a check, issued by U.S. Bank, for $10.18 from a B of A overdraft settlement.
Recalling a few of those pesky fees from my early 20s, I smiled while looking at my minor payback. Then, I took a closer look. The shape, larger than my Grandma's checks that arrive around my birthday, had me wondering: Is this legit?
Though the B of A check looked a little whacked, I decided to mobile-remote-deposit-capture up the bad boy to Chase, my primary bank that's known for its strong mobile offerings. Within seconds, I tapped open my mobile app to use my iPhone's camera to help facilitate the deposit, thinking how great it is to have these technology advances available. A snap here. Then a snap there. Then a rude awakening.
"There's an error with this deposit. Please click 'OK' to try again. If the error continues, you may need to deposit the check at a Chase branch or ATM. We apologize for the inconvenience" read an alert from Chase on my iPhone.
Discouraged but determined, I shuffled over to a bank branch on Wall Street to try my luck at depositing the paper though an ATM. Though the machine sucked up my check, a "rejected items" screen message spat back at me. I won't lie: The words hurt. With two refusals, there was only one thing left to do. Go into the branch. Reluctantly.
Having averaged a branch visit only about once every few years or so, I made my way up to the teller slowly and flushing flamingo. It's one thing to get shut done by a machine and quite another to get shut down by a person.
As my doubts mounted about my check's authenticity, I timidly approached the sole agent in a crowd of only me as a patron. I passed him, a genial teller, my check to cash, and noticed he stepped back to whisper something to someone who seemed to be a manager behind the clear wall. I imagined he thought the check was no good either. Then, he came back to me smiling as he said he could accept my check for deposit, though he couldn't cash it. First, the system had to say it cleared. I had my doubts that it would.
A few days later, I was surprised once more when I took a peek into my online banking account. The check was a check and had cleared. Victory — sort of.
Though I eventually got my $10.18, my experience got me wondering: How many unusually sized checks are issued by banks in a given year? And of those, how many consumers get denied deposit by mobile RDC (and not because of too high of an amount)? If I didn't cover banking technology, I have little doubt that I'd have thrown away the B of A check for sure and abandoned the idea of using my smartphone to make deposits for some time. I imagine others would, too. Certainly, with my overdraft check, I wasn't alone in my confusion (thank goodness). After I googled to see if others had similar overdraft refund check issues, I found myself in good company with South Carolina Federal Credit Union members trying to deposit the checks at an ATM.
I believe these technology gaps are important to stay tuned to. If something doesn't work, a customer may become annoyed and turn to more expensive contact routes. Furthermore, as banks start to allow the smartphone's camera to do more exotic functions, such as mobile bill payment, I imagine there will be a few new hiccups along the innovation imaging journey that won't delight customers.
I reached out to Mitek, the company that makes Chase's mobile deposit technology, to get their point of view. Julie Cunningham, vice president, corporate communications and investor relations, acknowledged that the product does not image unusually shaped checks due to fraud concerns. "Mitek's Mobile Deposit technology is designed to process the vast majority of common personal and business checks in use in the U.S.," she wrote in an email. "This generally includes similar-sized money orders, tax refund and cashier's checks. Our technology specifically excludes odd-sized checks due to the potential for fraud, such as 'fake' checks that are often used as a promotional hook in direct mail marketing campaigns."
I also asked Chase to weigh in. "You should be able to size the image on mobile; however, the information needs to be clear and readable," responded spokeswoman Christine Holevas. "The ATM slot is limited. Standard check size works, and there is a bit of room for slightly larger documents."
My takeaway from this experience? Though mobile RDC is treated as the cat's meow of banking products, it's important to remember it won't work on everything — yet. In my journey to deposit my check, it took me about seven days (which included my delay to visit a branch) to get the task done. Score one point for brick and mortar.