@internet -- Don't Bank on It

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After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail


The opt-out letter was the last straw.

I'd become increasingly dissatisfied with Wells Fargo Bank over the years. I didn't care much for the management-by-intimidation corporate culture when I worked there and I resented the nickel-and-dime gouging of customers and the relentless hawking of products and services in which I had negative interest that I'd endured ever afterward.

And that damned letter collapsed the dromedary's spine.

In it, Wells disclosed that it would be sharing my private financial information with its wholly-owned subsidiaries and with its "marketing partners". If I wanted it to stop, I'd have to write a hard-copy letter specifically requesting that -- and it would not honor telephone or email requests on the subject.

Since we were moving to Mariposa anyway -- and since the nearest Wells branch to our new home was in a supermarket thirty miles away -- we decided it was high time we changed banks. It didn't take long to pick a replacement, either.

We moved what remained of our family fortune to Bank of Internet, USA. Our Eureka Club account at BofI offered free online bill pay, interest-bearing checking with no monthly fee and no minimum balance, $10 a month in foreign ATM fee rebates, postage-paid deposit envelopes and an 877 number with live humans on the other end when we had questions.

Just about the turn of the year, we made the switch. And we were clam-happy with the change -- up until about late March.

A Few Bugs in the System

In Mariposa, we're a long ways out on the fringes of the Net, so, when we started experiencing latency problems connecting to BofI, we put it down to general Internet congestion. After all, there were times when AlltheWeb was unreachable, too. Even Yahoo, with its massive server farm in the heart of the Silly Valley mega-NAP got a little laggy during prime time.

But BofI was becoming more often unreachable than not -- and then the cookies started to crumble.

One of the things we liked most about BofI was its privacy policy. In contrast to Wells Fargo's effrontery, B of I kept it simple: they'd promised not to share our data with anyone. Period.

In that spirit, the cookies their secure server requested had always expired at the end of the session. Now, suddenly, they were set to persist until 2037 -- and our secure sessions were being transferred to an out-of-network server, to boot. Even more dismaying, login took us to a password-change page -- on those occasions when the server actually responded.

It smelled suspicious to me, so I left a voicemail message for Mike Berengolts, their CIO (he was in a meeting when I called) and sent BofI an email detailing the questionable behavior of their server.

Growing Pains

I heard back from Mike the following afternoon. He explained that, because of what he called "exponential growth in demand" BofI had outsourced their secure server functions to a third party and that they'd had latency problems ever since. He also admitted that they hadn't realized that contractor -- a Missouri firm called Jack Henry & Associates, Inc. -- had changed the expiration dates on their cookies.

I heard from Gary Evans, BofI's President, the next day. He underlined his firm's committment to privacy, avowing "I'm a registered Libertarian!" He also confessed that the Jack Henry folks had not yet complied with Mike's request to reinstate BofI's preferred cookie expiration policy.

It would take a week before that finally happened.

In the meantime, BofI's bill pay function crashed -- the bank invited its users to call, toll-free, and have them issue checks directly in the meantime -- and there were ongoing problems with the secure server's stability, as well. And, despite Evans' request, no one from Jack Henry agreed to speak with me for this column.

I don't blame BofI for any of this. Its officers have acted in a responsive and responsible manner throughout this imbroglio and we will continue as their customers.

It's Jack Henry & Associates that I blame. BofI is their victim, not the perpetrator. And Jack Henry is guilty, at best, of over-promising, under-delivering and being unresponsive, withal. And they've thus impaired BoI's reputation.

Word gets around. The banking community is a surprisingly small one -- and nobody in it wants the kind of black eye Jack Henry's indifference and arrogance caused BofI.

Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has done a one-eighty on their privacy policy -- but they lost the Starks and we won't be coming back.

And we're not alone.

(Copyright© 2001 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)