Confirmation – undo

The traditional pattern for the on-line banking “make a payment” GUI is:

  • What you are about to do (text)
  • Select “From account”
  • Select / enter “To account” (Beneficary)
  • Enter Amount
  • (Optional) enter “when” (you want payment to be made
  • Confirmation (“you are about to pay this amount from this account to that account. Are you sure?”)
  • Post process confirmation (“You have paid this amount to that account from this account”)

So here is a question. Are those confirmation screens really necessary. What if you made your payment, hit the “OK, make the payment” button and it is done. An alert appears (like when you do something with google) that says what you have just done with an “undo” call to action (“I’ve made a mistake, I don’t actually want to make that payment afterall”). The assumption there is that the user knows what they are doing – we assume a happy path with the opportunity to go back rather than placing “confirmation” barriers to completion which are probably unread anyway. There will be considerations of when the payment is actually made; does it hit the clearing systems when the user hits the pay button (not that it ever does anyway). Does the undo option disapear after a period of time (i.e. five minutes), or when the user navigates away from the page the alert appears? But let’s leave the implementation to one side.

I like the idea of undo instead of confirmation. However, I have a hunch that it will not fly when we show it to customers, because people are so ingrained with the “confirmation” dialog. I’m waiting for the response “I’m not sure I like that” from customers who use the current website, because it different, unexpected and is wholly inconsistent with what they have today. But what they have to day is based upon legacy technology and the immaturity of the platform.

So a suggestion. Let people undo. Tell them what they’ve done after they’ve done it (positive feedback), with the opportunity (in the banking environment in a time boxed period) to rectify their errors or change their minds. Do away with confirmation dialogs. Everywhere. (Do you want to save this document? – instinctively I say “no”. It is only later that I realise my mistake…) Here’s to a web that places minimal barriers to task completion.

What is your business

Should “the business” care about IT? Should an investment bank trader know anything about XML, or a marketer know anything about SQL? Probably not. Even less so should they be talking to their IT colleagues of their requirements in these terms. The business should speak to IT in a language of value driven requirements rather than implementation detail. What is the outcome you need or want, not how you think IT should deliver or implement it.

Yet in many organisations (especially where IT has historically had a track record of failure), the business has taken a greater interest in IT delivery. They start talking the language of the techie. When this starts to happen business operations no longer see the clarity of their business. They see systems. In an investment bank setting: the trade is booked in Zeus, settlements are handled by Minotaur, payments by Socrates. Corporate actions are handled in Hades. Depending upon the geographic region, client management might be handled by Tomsys, Dicksys or Harrysys. You ask a business person what do they do and they talk in terms of systems. Getting down to the underlying requirements of what they actually want to do is hard. Innovation and creative thinking are hard because they always return to what the limitations of the current systems are. They focus upon the requirement for a Reconciliation System rather than asking why there needs to be any reconciliation in the first place.

So here’s a suggestion. Act dumb. Forget everything you know about the way you do things and go back to first principles. How would things be if we were starting from scratch? How would you describe your business intent (not the what you do now, rather what outcomes you really want to achieve) in simple terms to a complete novice. I doubt the word “system” would come into the description.

Banking hasn’t moved on

My Great grandfather worked in a bank. He probably witnessed the introduction of the adding machine. Even then his work life would have revolved around the quill and ink; double entry book keeping, maintaining the accounts in journals and ledgers. In those days they were real journals and ledgers. And in balancing the books he would be reconciling data from one paper record to another.

Almost 100 years later and I recently found myself working for a bank… And I’m talking to people whose work lives, like my Great Grandfather’s, revolve around journals and ledgers. Only now their adding machines and the books have been replaced by systems.

Yet 100 years later their jobs remain similar to my Great Grandfathers. They are still reconciling data from one paper record to another. But it is no longer the journals themselves they are reconciling; now they are reconciling printouts of excel spreadsheets.

If IT was supposed to automate banking processes, take away “human error” and do away with reconciliation differences, IT professionals have failed to deliver on the promise. Indeed they’ve made things worse. The books may balance in one system, but add a few more systems, across the globe then things go a bit 1910. Manual reconciliation is still someone’s day job. It’s a sad fact that banking hasn’t really moved on in all that time.

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