On-line bidding for airline tickets, hotel rooms, and other products is bringing back all the uncertainty and worry that we generally associate with buying a car.
With airline tickets, for example, customers agree that if offered the ticket at the price they bid, they must accept it - no refunds, transfers, or tears. And often, they learn if a bid is accepted within an hour. If so, they have a quick bargain. If not, no harm done. No wonder it is so popular.
Still, customers who get their reduced-price ticket sometimes wonder later if they could have done even better.
This is what makes haggling so exasperating.
Also, customers have to wonder if the discount is really worth it. After all, the best ticket price to Miami from Newark might be for a 6:15 a.m. flight with two stops and a change in Memphis.
What does this all mean for banking?
More and more, banks are finding that people like on-line transactions. But it seems that the business of bargaining for rates and terms on-line is a step back. Nothing makes customers madder than seeing someone else get better terms, even if this is the result of their own bidding. Letting customers propose a rate of interest or cost of a loan has the same aura as taking your old jewelry to a dealer and getting asked, "How much do you want for this?"
This process gives the jewelers "heads I win/tails I don't pay" odds. If the price you want is below market, they'll take it. If it is not, they refuse.
Even worse, having rates determined on-line violates the basic strength that banking offers - a personal relationship, the idea that the bank makes you special because of the variety of ways it serves you. This is certainly a far cry from pushing a button and suggesting a rate in the hope that it is low enough to be a bargain to you but still acceptable to the bank.
Banking should be going the opposite way. Sure, customers like PC banking with instant loans. But they want an adviser to help with the complicated aspects of money management and saving for the future.
Without a relationship, advice is the last thing they'll get. Banking will amount to saying, "Guess what we will accept." Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.