Berlind vs. Carr: BofA's TV-advertised IT-advantage falls flat on its face

Perhaps proving that IT really does matter (and that it can't deliver on the promise it makes in one of its TV commercials), Bank of America is currently experiencing a disruption to its direct deposit operating.

Perhaps proving that IT really does matter (and that it can't deliver on the promise it makes in one of its TV commercials), Bank of America is currently experiencing a disruption to its direct deposit operating. Last week, I wrote up a blog entry (see BoA TV ad explains why IT Matters) positing that -- contrary to what Nicholas Carr has to say -- IT matters so much to Bank of America that it is running television commercials that literally advertise the importance of their custom built systems.  Referring to the perfection with which every one of the 40 million checks that BoA handles each day must be processed, BoA banker Lance Truman who stars in the ad says "One error in a million is simply unacceptable."  Then came the bad news.  Apparently, neither Lance nor the BofA can live up to that promise.  Late yesterday, I received the following notification via email:

If your paycheck is directly deposited into your Bank of America account, you will have noticed that your deposit has not posted for today. Bank of America has confirmed that they are experiencing system problems and currently do not know when the problem will be resolved and your accounts credited.....We recommend that you contact Bank of America customer service directly at 800.622.8731 with questions about this situation.

A prerecorded message at that 800 number confirmed that BoA is experiencing problems with direct deposit  and that the bank expects have the problem resolved later this morning.  I've got a call into BoA's public relations department and am awaiting an official response regarding the promise the ad makes and this failure to deliver on that promise.  In the meantime, BofA needs to give the hook to Mr. Truman and get those ads off TV since it's a bit of false advertising.

Meanwhile, when Nicholas Carr saw my original blog, he responded with his own writeup (see Don't Bank on it ...Boy,  talk about your double entendres!) in which he argues that the accuracy of BoA's custom-built check processing systems are not a differentiator on which customers base the selection of their banks.  Wrote Carr:

While the accuracy of the banking industry's check-processing systems is certainly amazing, is BoA's (or any bank's) check-processing prowess influencing how customers choose which bank to use? I very much doubt it. Customers assume that processing will be flawless; they don't take it into account in their decisions at all. And, in fact, I would guess that most banks do every bit as good a job as BoA in processing checks. It's an essential capability for a bank, but it's not strategic.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sensitive when it comes to my money.  Hopefully, BofA's public relations department will be able to explain just exactly how many checks were affected and what it plans to do about little details like lost interest and bounced checks that come as a result of this error. I even wonder if it will be able to fully account for the ripple effect of this breakdown.  With so many people now using electronic banking to automate the precise timing of certain monthly transactions, one can only guess at the potential extent of the damage.  Talk about IT mattering.   I can't imagine it not mattering in this situation.

Me personally? Well, as a part of my coverage of a recent Intel briefing, I just got done describing a very expensive, major undertaking at my house (installation of central air conditioning).  It's a part of a larger home improvement project.   I'm not writing checks every day, but I have to write a very big one today and I was counting on that money being in my checking account so as to minimize the amount I have to transfer from savings.  This is exactly the sort of error that causes me to take my banking elsewhere and I will.  Undoubtedly, someone will say I'm overreacting.   That's easy for somone else to say.  It's not their money.