May 14, 2002


It's 8:30 in the evening. I'm at home, and logged in. Well, obviously, or you wouldn't be reading this, I guess. Anyway, the standard IT workers hectic weekday evening procedure is in full swing: get home, feed cat, pop dinner in the over to reheat, undress, put on white towelling gown, boot up PC, log on, check that stuff you've built during the day at work hasn't decided to break.

Actually, this time I'm mainly logged in to pay bills. Sometimes I despair with Nedbank. You see, a couple of years ago, they were the first bank in South Africa to go online with 'self-service' banking. Well, First National Bank beat them to it, but all that FNB allowed you to do was kinda check your balance and maybe see a statement online. All the joy of an ATM, with all the functionality of an ATM (then). So anyway, Nedbank goes online with full strength encryption. FNB was only 56 bit, and Nedbank was pretty happy with themselves that they had this little proxy that ran on your local PC, that managed to encrypt your transactions with the Nedbank server at the 128 bit level. At the time, the company I was working for was tasked with developing and deploying this app, and it was my job to write the install package for it. All hail InstallShield (seriously cool software). But I digress.

At first, I was really excited about what was happening with Nedbank. They were my bank at the time, and had been kind enough to give me a student (which kinda meant that I was able to study and therefore get a job from those studies, that enabled me to work on software for them. Oh, the irony.) Suddenly with the help of this app, I was able to pay my bills and do various other transactions that meant I had to set foot in a physical branch of the bank even less. Ah, bliss. Or so I thought.

You see, at that stage you couldn't add your own beneficies while online. You had to physically walk into the bank and tell them the account details of the people or organisations you wanted to pay, and they would add them to your profile. Sure, this is a once-off thing for each beneficiary, but we all live in the wired world, and suddenly once you're given a tool, you want to use it for everything. And we as Nedbank clients were promised that 'real soon now' we would be able to add our own beneficiaries online. That was back in December 1996.

About a year ago, Nedbank upgraded their online banking site (called NetBank - cute), which now did allow you do add your own beneficiaries. Oh the excitement I felt when I read this. I hastily logged in, visions of full-service floating in my head. And, like a date where you finally get the person you're sexually attracted to home from the club, undress them and discover they're woefully, um, 'underpowered' in the genitalia department, I was suddenly disappointed.

Yes, you could add beneficiaries yourself. For other Nedcor accounts. Only.

If you wanted to add someone banking at another institution, it was 'visit the branch' again. And in the ensuing years since December 1996, ABSA, Investec, Standard Bank and a host of others had already provided more functional online banking sites, rapidly leaving Nedbank in their digital wake.

So, in a fit of customer-(dis)service-pique, I called their help line, and ranted politely about how this sucked. The drone on service was polite, and agreed with me, but could do nothing.

Here's the reason constantly given by the bank: security. They reckon that if someone should break into your account online (despite them having to know your profile number, profile PIN, and profile password, and it being over a strong secure connection) that person could add themselves as a beneficiary and empty out your account into theirs.

This makes sense, and I understand the bank wanting to protect their customers from this scenario. So I came up with this idea: let me add any beneficiary at any institution I like, but don't activate that beneficiary yet. Instead, have some backend process whereby I'm notified (by phone or GSM SMS) that a beneficiary has been added. And at that point I can confirm that I added it. And then Nedbank could activate that beneficiary.

The customer-service drone agreed with me that this was a good idea. That was over 12 months ago. I still can't add beneficiaries from other institutions online, and I'm charged over R20 a month for this.

Go 20twenty!

  :::  a Rant ritual performed at 08:37 PM   :::