/ Money, Technology

I don’t want a Big Brother bank texting me

Finger pointing

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…

John R says:
2 March 2011

I’ve NEVER really trusted banks, and what with the financial fiasco 2 years ago, I’m now even more sceptical!!! Two of the UK banks I use, have offered this `service`. No thanks – I can control MY own finances. And it would be another way for the banks to bombard you with additional, and probably, useless sevices.

Alastair France says:
2 March 2011

I have a bank account in South Africa as well as my UK account, and I’d have to say that the clever use of mobile phones with banking seems to work well. The internet banking sends a one time pin to your registered mobile phone, and if you are creating a new recipient payment does a second pin – the text sent then includes the amount etc which gives you a helpful prod. All of this is done using PIN sentry or equivalent technology in the UK – but I don’t carry my PIN sentry thing around all the time – my mobile… yes I do.

It also lets me know of payments going out. I don’t find this annoying but I guess if I had as many debits going from the account as I do from Barclays on the first of the month I would PROBABLY feel like throwing my phone into the Vaal or the Thames (choose appropriate river). Interestingly I have never had any fraud problems with my South African accounts – whereas my UK ones in South Africa… that’s another issue.

My 2p (or 20 Rand Cents) worth.

Actually my Bank does stop payments outside my usual spending patterns – I consider it very useful that I need to confirm large payments. It will stop large payments being stolen (never actually happened.)

I do check my out-goings on-line three times a week. This actually uncovered a fraud where a fraudster used my details to steal £3.95 – an insignificant amount – but it was to check if the details actually worked.- I think small amounts are not checked as carefully as large amounts. A few days later the same person tried to remove £300 – they were caught.

If I only had a quarterly statement as used to happen before changing to on-line banking .I think my balance would have been emptied before I received any information about it..


maybe banks could txt us to tell us the amount of sheer profit they make each hour instead?