Thursday, July 07, 2011

Banking CAN be this uncomfortable

One of the worst parts of living in Korea is the banking. I won't make myself angry by getting into it, but here's a comparison of how online banking works with IBK, the Korean bank I use, and RBC, my Canadian bank. For what it's worth, all screenshots are from a transaction to pay a credit card bill.

Banking with RBC is a four-part step, though I guess I omitted the first step. From the main page, click 'sign in' and then the three steps that follow are shown below.

I won't claim to remember much about how the process works, but bills you register with your bank show up on the quick payment menu. The whole thing can be done in less than a minute.

By contrast, Korean banking is unwiedly and inconvenient. It only works with Internet Explorer, the pages are heavy and take a long time to load, and about a half-dozen Active X controls are required just to use the website, along with a third-party program used just for logging in.

Step 1 is the third-party program with its own password for logging in. Note that my Taiwanese laptop with Korean-language support can't decipher anything in the program.

After logging in, step 2 lets you chose a "quick transfer", the fantastic South Korean feature that lets you transfer money to another account in a method that we call personal checks.

Step 3 is the actual transfer screen itself. Granted, much of the space asks for banking information of the account you're paying, but it asks for my PIN, my online transfer password, all of which are different from the password I use to log into my online banking.

But wait! That's not all!

Step 4 is insane. When I signed up for online banking in-person (fun fact: I signed up for RBC online banking from an Internet cafe in Istanbul), I was given what's called a secret card. My co-workers have nicknamed it a nuclear football. As the picture in step 4 shows, I have to enter a combination of numbers from it in order to complete the transaction.

In step 5, finally, I have to review my transaction using the third-party program and re-enter the original password for logging into the website. Note that I can't read any of the information.

Finally, if you can manage all this, you still might find, as I did, that your bank card doesn't work outside of Korea and that you have to ask for special dispensation from your bank just to bank online from outside of Korea. The whole process reeks of this parody of the iPod, Microsoft's human ear edition of the product.

Much of the security in Korea is in the name of crime prevention. I had to bank using my passport instead of my ID card at my local branch because it had been targeted by some nebulous Chinese criminals. Many ATMs require you to confirm that you haven't come to complete a transaction that resembles a phishing scam. The block of Internet banking outside of Korea, too, is in the name of preventing foreign criminals from negotiating the thirty or so levels of security already in place to access your account.

Like with terrorism, it's worth it to take a step back and consider just how small of a risk is being targeted with how great of an effort. To stave off this low-probability event, we expend an absurd amount of time, energy and resources. Frequently changing passwords, for examples, costs the American economy something in the order of tens of billions of dollars each year.

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