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17.04. Digital madness (2)

"Back to the Future" with incompetent German Bank
It's midnight in Germany. People in my old homeland are exhausted from their tireless attempts to reach the 24/7 credit card banking hotline of LandesBank Berlin (LBB) – a big bank of the federal state of Berlin - and sink into their beds. 

It is an ideal time for the customers on the other side of the world, who are wide awake thanks to a ten-hour head start, to speak to one of the employees who have been unreachable for about two months, and not be kicked off the line after the automated announcement that customer service is completely overwhelmed by calls.

For two months I have been unable to check my credit card account or make online payments because I was unable to re-register my ADAC Visa card, a request made by the bank to all their customers in February. (ADAC is the German automobile association.) 

This re-registration was necessary because the system "migrated", as the ADAC - not the unreachable LBB - told me, and the IT department – according to an LBB employee - was hopelessly overwhelmed with the task. The bank, the ADAC assured me, was working around the clock to "eliminate the remaining faults". The reason for the chaos was "the high number of people using the new credit card banking system". This "temporarily overloaded the systems and thus led to a large number of calls to customer service".

IT department overwhelmed by the task of migrating the system

But this is only half the truth. The system is going completely crazy because the IT specialists messed it up during the "migration". I have written proof of this, and much more has gone wrong than the ADAC admits. The extent of the disruption is so immense that the validity period of the access data sent out has been extended from 30 to 120 days.

Since February I have been complaining that I could not check my Visa card statements online because the announced 1-cent transfer with user name and access code for re-registration of the card never arrived on my everyday account at Sparkasse (huge chain of banks in Germany, “Savings Bank”). 

Now I know why. The day before yesterday my brother sent me the photo of an envelope from LBB on WhatsApp, with my old address in Germany on it. It contained the data for the re-registration of my Visa card. This had been sent instead of the announced 1-cent transfer. 

System changed mailing address back to address last used ten years ago

The letter is from February. My brother has only just received it because two years after the sale of our parents' house, he was invited by the new owner to marvel at the results of the renovation. For two years our family has not had any connection to the house, and TEN YEARS AGO I used the address for the last time for mail from LBB. 

For TEN YEARS, LBB has been sending all letters to New Zealand, whether bank statements, new credit cards or the registration details for online banking. And now a stranger has received my secret access data for my credit card account.

Since it's midnight in Germany and I can get through on the LBB hotline, I can ask how this could happen. As expected, nobody knows. I ask the employee to change the address immediately, so no more mail ends up at the wrong address. This is not possible, he says, he can no longer intervene in the system as before. Instead, he says, I would need to re-register my card and then correct the address myself in the settings.

SMS required for access code but the messages never arrive

This is easier said than done, because after entering the access data for registration - the first of seven steps - I would need to receive an SMS with a TAN (transaction number), but the mobile phone remains silent. I call again. The mobile number is wrong, he finds out, it has one digit too many. But – a miracle: The man can change the mobile phone number, obviously the only action a human can still do in the new system.

I start over again, but again no SMS arrives. It is a vicious circle: without SMS no registration, without registration no change of address, without change of address no mail to New Zealand. The employee on my next call wonders about the inexplicable error, "because the data should actually have been delivered with the migration", but she can only offer me one solution: I would need to send the address change by snail mail to Berlin.

It feels as if I had changed the address despite not having had access to my account and the system! The bank screws up and the customer has to fix it. This is customer service of a different kind, which costs the customer time, energy, nerves and even postage. "Back to the Future" Berlin style.

The SMS system doesn't work everywhere in Germany either

She says that the procedure with SMS to foreign countries is implemented in the system but that it often does not work, and if it does, then often with such big delays that online purchase processes are cancelled due to timeout. This, she says, is very unpleasant for the customers.

I have a better idea: Since my two German SIM cards don't work here, I have my brother's German mobile phone number registered, then he gets the SMS with the TAN and can forward the code to me. 

That's how we do it - but of course only after a few hours, when morning breaks in Germany and my brother is awake. But it is not only one TAN. After almost every click I make on my laptop, his mobile beeps, for every log-in and every OK I have to enter a new TAN. That's a way to spend your day. But at least the address is corrected back to my home which has been my mailing address for LBB for the past ten years. 

The phone beeps after nearly every click on the laptop

But the story does not end here. When editing the residential address, a text in red suddenly lights up: "You would like to move your main residence abroad/international/to Germany? In this case, we are initially only allowed to save the address you have requested as a mailing address, as we are obliged to check your tax liability. The corresponding documents will be sent to you within the next few days as soon as you have entered the data."

LBB is welcome to do so, but I will not return the forms - just like last November, when the bank confirmed in writing that I lived abroad and that "a foreign address has been registered" for my account. I don’t fill out the forms, because I don't care whether I pay (no) withholding tax on my non-existent credit card account balance to the German or to the New Zealand tax authority.

It is therefore even more puzzling how and why the LBB system moved my residence back from New Zealand to an ancient address in Germany between November and February. It is quite obvious that the machine has replaced man and gone out of control.

The EU Directive PSD2 is the root of all evil

Beside the IT department, says the woman on the hotline, the EU is to blame for the chaos. With the EU Directive PSD2 (Revised Payment Services Directive 2015/2366), which has been in force since 11 September 2019, the EU has forced all payment services and payment service providers throughout the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) to increase data protection in digital banking by means of two-factor authentication for log-in and online card payments.

LBB obliged and requested re-registration last September. The 1-cent transfer for data transmission worked, and with the help of customer service it was possible to skip the SMS requirement during registration, because even then SMS to my phone (and many others) did not work, and everyone knew it. 

And the problem doesn’t only affect customers overseas. In areas with no cellphone coverage, or only for certain providers, you can go online with wifi but you cannot receive SMS. Therefore, using apps, email and/or the cumbersome TAN generator offered by other banks is more logical and useful.

For me there is only one solution: The compulsory SMS component has made my Visa card unusable. I will cancel it as soon as the refund of a certain company arrives. I want to check my statements and do my online business when I feel like it and when I have the time, not when my brother is not sleeping and/or not very busy. And I can't distract him from his work every day with LBB's constant TAN message beeping on his cellphone.

Translated from German with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) and edited by the author (Copyright: Sissi Stein-Abel)


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Grid on a Netguard card instead of SMS

Just in case someone asks: Why does she need a German credit card if she lives in New Zealand?

It's simple: Because I earn my money in Germany as a correspondent for German media, the money is transferred to an everyday account there and it saves me the huge fees for international transfers.

I can use my German credit cards worldwide, pay small fees for overseas use, and the amount owed is debited monthly from my German everyday account.

In fact, after the recent nerve-racking experiences with German banks and credit cards, I have decided to transfer some of my money to New Zealand and get a New Zealand credit card.

The two-factor-authentication here is done with a so-called NetGuard card, which has numbers and letters written on it in a grid. For transactions, the system requests a sequence of numbers or letters from the grid by reading the coordinates.

This corresponds to the German TAN (transaction number) system - with the difference that you don't even have to carry the card with you. You can take a picture of it and save it on your mobile phone.

BTW - The German TAN generator is a little machine into which you have to insert your card, type a starting code you receive online, then receive an access code (TAN) on the little machine which you have to type into your online transfer document. 

For some transctions you have to hold it in a certain angle against your computer screen, so the systems can "talk" to each other. If you don't carry this machine with you, you can't do any online banking.

(sis)
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