This is a true story about an attempt to transfer money from one account to another. It happened just a few months ago to Falk Rieker, who, as part of SAP's global leadership team for banking, is savvier than the average customer when it comes to understanding bank technology.
His experience highlights why the neobanks are bigger challengers than their size suggests. Tiny as they are, these digital upstarts could have more of an impact than you think, because they are improving the customer experience in ways that banks, for all of their talk, seem unable to do.
Rieker went online to access his accounts at the U.S. subsidiary of a large international bank where logging in involves entering a password and answering a handful of personal questions every time.
"It's not a simple user experience," he says. "I log on, let's say, twice a week, and you have to change your password all the time and get four or five questions before you can do your transactions. It takes already five minutes. It's not how it should be, let's put it that way."
But he expected that part. He did not expect that to transfer money to an account at a different bank he would have to download a mobile app. "I'm an online customer, and now they force me to download something on my phone," he says. "In my case it was not a problem because I have a smartphone, but what is going on with people who don't have a smartphone? There are still many out there."
Worse still, he had four failed attempts to download the app, and then could not get the app to work. Configuring it required a PIN, and "these PIN numbers you only get via the mobile app," he says.
He called on the phone to resolve the app trouble, a process that took two hours on top of the one hour he had already invested beforehand. Then he returned to his original task. "Now, after 3 hours, then we finally got everything to work and I wanted to make the transfer, and they told me, 'OK, you can do it now. You just need to assign an account to your profile,'" he says.
Oh, if only it could be that easy.
It turned out that the account he wanted to assign happened to be a joint account with his wife. And she already had assigned that same account to her own profile.
"They told me, 'No, you can only use an account once. Your wife has already taken it, so you cannot use that same account you want to do the money transfer to.' And this again is something which is not correct and again a disappointing user experience.
"Now I could have transferred to another account I have, but what logic is that? My wife can have it as the account in her profile, but not me? It's a flaw. It simply shows that someone is designing these procedures and processes who either doesn't use them or is not familiar with the banking business."
What he considers to be the "most horrible" part came next.
"That's when I got so frustrated that I said, 'I wish I could terminate the account.' And the guy said, 'Oh, that's no problem. We can do that right away. Do you want to have the money transferred to a bank account or do you want to have a check sent by FedEx?'"
So now he could send money to the account where he wanted to send it in the first place? Yes, but Rieker opted for the check instead (which arrived the next day as promised).
"I asked the person, 'What about my wife? Does she need to agree? Do you need a confirmation from her?' 'Nope, no problem.'"
Good thing he had no devious plans afoot.
"So when you think about this, first they have these supersensitive and complicated login procedures, but then when you terminate an account it is the easiest thing in the world. It simply doesn't make sense," he says. "And I think, for me, it also a great example that shows banks still have a long way to go when it comes to digital banking."
He acknowledges such an "extreme" experience is not representative of all banks. But he suspects he is not alone either. "I'm sure there are many, many other bank customers out there that have had similar experiences. And think about it, not everybody is as knowledgeable about technology as me; not everyone has the same patience as me to deal with that.
"If I can book a trip through Europe in a couple of minutes, with five different cities and four different hotels, everything online, why is it so complicated to do a payment? Or in this case, a money transfer? This is no comparison.
"If you have such a user experience for a millennial, or even for the older generation that I am, you are in trouble as a business, because they will say, 'Unacceptable.' The older generation will give up and the millennials will just use a different app."
Notice that he did not say "switch banks," but simply "use a different app." That is exactly what the neobanks are counting on.