by Josh Bernoff
I pay my bills electronically. When possible, I get the bills sent to me electronically. Companies like Citibank (my credit card company), Bank of America (my bank), and Comcast (my cable company) like it that way. Less paper for them. Comcast calls it an "ecobill" to try to make me feel good about saving paper. This is supposed to be the new way we all live, in the Internet cloud. Paper is so 20th Century.
But if you do your personal business in the cloud, you are trusting these companies. How much do you trust them?
Case in point. Citibank sent me a new credit card with a new number because of a data breach at some merchant. Thank you, Citi, for looking out for me. It's a hassle fixing all the electronic payments again when these numbers change, but hey, better than fraudulent charges, right?Of course, all my Citi credit card bills are online. Except the ones for my old card number. Most of those are just gone. I can see my new bills. I can also request copies of bills on the old card -- going back six months -- and they respond with a PDF in several days. Older than six months -- those bills are gone.
Why does this matter?
Well, I never saved copies of those older bills because I trusted Citi to keep them for me. The last two times I changed credit card numbers, they kept the old bills for me online. They were there two weeks ago. Now they're gone. Need to check for a charitable contribution and forgot what month it was in? Need to prove you paid some merchant? Screwed. I'm sure if I called them and knew what month to ask for, they could find it, but last time I called, I waited 15 minutes for some woman in India who dropped my call 10 minutes in.
This morning, my Comcast bill appeared in Bank of America's bill pay. So I checked it on the Comcast site. Except Comcast's system responds with "We're sorry, the system could not process your request at this time." Unlike every other company I deal with, Comcast bills me, not for what I did last month, but for what I'm going do next month. You bill me in advance, it would be nice if I could see what I'm paying for.
There's a lot of talk about trust these days. Banks are at the center of it. They're asking a lot more assurances and documentation from lenders, because they can't trust people to pay any more. They've raised their credit card rates.
But can we trust them? Financial services companies, merchants, and banks: if you want us to do business with you electronically, we need to be able to trust you. That means your systems must keep our information available. You want trust, act trustworthy.
Trust me, guys, you need to work on this.
Photo credit: Powerbooktrance via Flickr.