The difference between banks’ technical systems is huge

bankid mobil - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

Here in Norway, there are quite a few banks fighting over the customers. Unfortunately, switching banks isn’t exactly as straight forward as switching cell phone carriers, as you can’t just port your bank numbers over like you can your phone number. Despite the hassle though, I’ve started the process of moving – or at least “dual wielding” – banks, simply because my existing bank is a decade behind with technical solutions.

The bank I’m currently using is Nordea, a multi-country bank that used to be pretty good. Over the last half a decade or so though, it’s become increasingly useless, and it has been falling so far behind the others in terms of technical solutions that I don’t think it will ever catch up. The bank’s current Android app works every now and then, hanging on log in as often as it manages to complete the process. That instability isn’t exactly helped by the back end systems, which are down so often that I’ve sometimes had to delay paying bills several days because of the problems. Put simply, you can’t rely on it. At all.

Instability isn’t the only issue though, lack of willingness (or ability) to use (or deploy in a timely manner) the latest technology has also been a major problem. Banking systems are probably quite different here in Norway compared to the US, but we basically need to use a code generating “calculator” to log into the online banking systems, similar to the for instance World of Warcraft’s authenticator. There’s a reason I mention WoW’s authenticator despite it not being a game, not a bank, and that reason is that WoW also has a mobile app that replaces the physical authenticator.

Security is a bit stricter for a bank system, but several banks (including the one I’m switching to, DNB) now offer the ability to log in using a cell phone based code generation system. There’s no app, as the system instead relies on integration with the mobile carrier and the phone’s SIM card to pop up menus and whatnot seemingly out of thin air. Instead of dragging that stupid calculator around, the bank system communicates with your phone directly, asks you for a PIN, and then communicates authentication back to the bank – allowing you to log in. It works well, and most importantly, you don’t need that freaking 20th century calculator thingy.

The new bank also has a Labs site where future services are discussed and tested out. It excites me when I see people working for the bank actually discuss the possibilities of an API with interested parties, and it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the old bank’s support staff doing nothing but apologize for the down time for the 20th time in a week. Nordea has such a ridiculous amount of downtime and other issues that it frightens me that there’s seemingly no laws governing the competence of an institution like that, in a country where there’s (luckily) agencies that will run after Apple with a sledgehammer for using the wrong marketing terms.

I’ve yet to use the new bank in practice, as I’m still getting everything sorted out, so I could still run into issues I haven’t yet seen. So far though, I’m impressed, and at the same time shocked at how big of a difference there is between banks – especially in the area of technical systems and mobile solutions. We’re in the last quarter of 2012, and some banks seem to think that people started using cell phones for things other than calls last week.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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