Would you want your bank to text you with an update on your balance each time you spent a fiver? How about letting them put a limit on your debit card to stop you over-spending? Personally, I shudder at the thought…
Recently I was struck by a newspaper report that asked its readers: ‘Would you want your bank to text you?’
Based on the assumption that First Direct wouldn’t be contacting me to ask how my weekend was or what I’d like for dinner, my first reaction was ‘Yes, why not?’ In fact, I already get handy, weekly texts from the bank giving me an update on my balance.
But upon reading the story, I discovered these weren’t the sorts of texts we were talking about. Instead of simple, unobtrusive updates on how much spare cash you have available, the report told of text messages that would ‘alert you’ every time you spent money using your debit card.
While no banks in the UK currently offer their customers this service, apparently the technology is already there – and consumer demand for such communications may soon catch up.
Big Brother banking
Call me crazy, but surely nobody needs their bank to text them every time they buy a sandwich from Pret-a-Manger. Given that you’d probably be chomping on your artisan roll by the time the text came through, the information it contained would be entirely useless.
And as someone who enjoys the occasional shopping spree, I can’t think of anything worse than my phone bleeping ‘Warning! Did you really need that handbag?’ every time I splash out.
While my weekly texts from First Direct might let me know that certain direct debits have been paid, or remind me that I should probably wait for those new shoes, they’re irregular enough that I don’t feel too ‘watched’ or find them annoying.
In fact, I can imagine that if I got a text every time I spent anything using my debit card I’d soon start ignoring them – which obviously defeats the object of the game.
Sorry, you can’t spend any more
And what about the idea of your bank putting a transaction limit on your credit or debit card account? Would you want to agree a ‘threshold’ with your bank that meant you couldn’t splash more than a certain amount of cash each week?
Personally, I’d rather give my plastic to my better half for safe keeping, should I feel my shopaholism scaling new heights.
What if something unexpected happened and you needed to put a train ticket, an emergency car repair or something as harmless as a new umbrella on your card? A spending threshold seems like an arbitrary and pretty risky instrument for curbing your splurging, in my opinion.
Fraud fears, money management
I’m sure some Which? Convo readers will take a more positive view of what I’ve termed ‘Big Brother banking’. And I can see that if you’re deeply concerned about the risk of fraud, receiving text messages detailing every transaction made might help assure you that, should you become the victim of crime, you’d spot this immediately.
But my weekly texts do a similar job – and they don’t have the same vaguely patronising, alarmist quality about them.
As for transaction thresholds, I can imagine why they might seem an attractive idea if you’re really hopeless at budgeting. But in addition to my worry that these limits are a blunt way to stop excessive spending, the ex-teacher in me wants to screech: ‘If a computer does your budgeting for you, how will you ever learn?’
I’m all for responsible money management, and I’m certainly in favour of using technology to help with this. But taken to extremes, I think technology could hinder, rather than help us financially – not to mention make some of us decidedly paranoid…