Bad design at banks ensures customers are scammed

Alastair Somerville
3 min readAug 9, 2023

Long post as I’m back home from visiting my parents (both over 85) and I’m pissed off with banks and their attitudes to customer security.

90 mins on phone trying to get money transferred from one bank account to another for, and with, my father.

The main problem I have with banks is that their systems and their scripts are designed in ways that ensure people are scammed.

Banks create the risk of being scammed by using language and behaviours that are easily copied and used by criminals. Then the banks blame customers.

Banks demand compliance to voice of authority

The bank staff are scripted and trained to demand customers respond to questions about security and actions in the way that the system requires it and using the jargon that the system follows. This alienates customers so they simply give up their agency and criticism capacities just to get thru the call.

This patterning is thus easily co-opted by scammers. They use the same form of voice and the same demand for compliance thru authority to get codes and numbers. The con is easy because it very, very similar to how the bank itself works.

The requirement to talk and behave as the bank requires leaves people vulnerable to being conned and scammed. The loss of personal agency and autonomy that makes things easier for the bank system is what enables the crimes.

Customers hold the information load

Banks also demand that customers hold the stress of remembering details and repeating them often.

Perhaps this is believed to be a good way of ensuring accuracy but that is not how human memory works. Perhaps it’s because the systems are old and bad. Three times we had to go thru all the account numbers for different reasons (the system crashed at one point possibly). Repetition does not increase accuracy. It increases uncertainty and doubt. My father became more confused by the experience.

The scammers are, from my experience of my mother being conned, actually better at this because they take down numbers better.

Listen to customers

The final thing is how little staff listen and try to adjust to the customer’s viewpoint and language.

By the end of 90 minutes and even tho I repeatedly requested that my father not be stressed, the bank staff kept demanding he confirm details. However, they used their language not his. He was talking of a bank transfer (from one account to another) while they kept calling it a payment. So when they kept requesting to know if he was sure that he wanted to make a payment, he became confused and stressed. The bank induced the confusion and the stress.

Again it is that pattern which is easily used by scammers. My mother is repeatedly called by people urgently saying there’s a problem with her account and they need to get thru security to help fix it. The rush of emotion and the confusion of bank jargon ensures the con works.

Summary

  • Do banks not understand how their security and service design enable the scams?
  • Do banks not understand how their content design and conversational scripts ensures confusion?
  • Do banks not care about human centered design?

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Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX