Opinion

Felix Salmon

Adventures with online-banking videos

By Felix Salmon
September 22, 2011

BankSimple came out with a preview of their service today and it’s very cool.

A couple of hours after watching this video, I got an email from Citibank — addressed to “Dear Feliz Salmon” — with the subject line “Announcing the new Citibank Online”.

Citibank has a video too, but it’s not embeddable. After looking at it, I have to say that the new Citibank Online looks much like the old Citibank Online: I don’t think there’s anything for BankSimple to worry about here.

The most interesting bit, for me, was the huge difference in the way in which the two banks put their videos together. BankSimple got its CEO to walk us through his bank account, as it appears on his website. Citi, by contrast, showed us an impossible account which looks like this:

citigrab.tiff

“Jim Smith”, here, has $54,662.00 in his checking account. Of that, just $23,612 is “Available Now”. Maybe one of those 25 unread messages might tell him what seems to be the problem with the other $31,050. But he’s unlikely to read them: after all, his last login was on May 14 and it’s now sometime in the fall: his credit-card payment is due November 10, even though his Expense Analysis stops at June 5.

But my favorite bit of this screenshot is the breakdown in the expense analysis. Apparently Mr Smith withdrew $68,040 from ATMs in the past five months — that’s $13,608 per month, or about $450 per day, every day. All that cash is 57% of Smith’s total expenditures, which means that those expenditures add up to $119,368 in all, or about $286,484 per year.

Except: we’re also told that travel expenses of $9,948 are 13% of the total, which implies an expenditure rate of about $183,655 per year.

And then there are the wonderful “Other” and “Uncategorized” expenses. (The difference between the two, of course, is unexplained.) “Other” is $3,000 and 14% of the total, implying $51,428 of expenses per year.

But “Uncategorized”, at 16% of the total, is — get this — $299 million. Which means that Mr Smith seems to be on track to spend roughly $4.485 billion this year, in total.

Citi obviously poured much more money into its video than BankSimple did into theirs. It has high production values, even unto graphs which literally come out of your computer:

charts.tiff

Clever trick, that — although customers expecting to see it in real life are probably risking disappointment. Again, the numbers aren’t internally consistent: the top expenditure category on the left is Groceries, which is just $55.50, or 2.3%, when broken down in the list on the right. Other big expenses on the left, like Business and General Merchandise, don’t even appear in that list. And Mr Smith seems to have gone on a serious diet: his total expenses from January 1 through July 20 now total just $2,411.22.

It’s literally inconceivable to me that anybody, watching these two videos, would get remotely excited about the Citibank product. Meanwhile, BankSimple already has a long waiting list of people desperate to switch over — a list which is likely only to get even longer now that glimpses of the product are being made public.

The first BankSimple accounts will start being opened in “a few weeks”, according to today’s post. They will be glitchy, as any 1.0 product always is. But I’m quite certain that BankSimple’s early customers will be patient and forgiving and that BankSimple’s executives and employees will be accessible, helpful and responsive whenever there’s a problem.

BankSimple will never release a screenshot or video of one of its products where there’s a line item showing $299 million in personal “Uncategorized” expenses. I know this despite the fact that they haven’t even launched yet, because that simply isn’t who they are. Citi, by contrast, is rudderless, spending huge sums of money putting together silly videos advertising its website and sending out 346 million card offers to North American customers per quarter. It won’t change the way it does banking. But I can.

Comments
One comment so far | RSS Comments RSS

Great post. I would have just dismissed the video without actually doing the math, so kudos for digging through and peeling the additional layers of this ridiculous onion.

Posted by djiddish98 | Report as abusive
 

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