I had occasion to need to export a years worth of statements to an Excel file to help with filing a self assessment tax form.
This is a typical task completed by many people during January as the deadline for self assessment forms looms up at the end of the month.
I dread this task, because year in, year out, Lloyds TSB provides me with one of the most frustrating experiences I have found online. Past experience has taught me what constraints are in place and what sort of experience to expect, but…
This year, I thought I’d document my experience as if I were a new user, and write it up as a case study, because sure enough, Lloyds TSB did not fail to disappoint me this year either.
This is the Export Statement popup dialog which appears over your account page.
It looks innocuous enough. But right off the bat, there’s a problem – I can only download 150 transactions at a time. Well I have no idea how long it takes me to do 150 transactions. One month? Two months? Three maybe? If I enter the year period I’m interested, and find that 150 transactions only covered the first 39 days, I have to come back and enter a new start date corresponding to when the first export got truncated. And I have to make it overlap a bit because otherwise I might miss a few transactions from the date of truncation. So then I know I’m going to have to piece together these exports and find the bits that overlap and remove duplicated entries.
I decide I don’t want to do it in batches of 150 transactions, I’ll do it in batches of a few months at a time and try to ensure I never reach the 150 transaction limit. That way I can just piece the parts together without worrying about overlaps.
To kick things off I enter some dates 1 March to 30 June 2011. But I’m told that I’m only allowed to enter dates which are no more than 3 months apart.
Well – it would be good to know that constraint when I’m being prompted for dates. (See later in this article for why I don’t get told at the time.) If I’d known I was restricted to 3 month periods I might not have bothered worrying about hitting the 150 transaction limit.
Then I try 1 March to 1 June. I hit the Export button. Nothing. Export again. Nothing. Actually what has happened is it’s given me the same error. When it says the dates are more than 3 months apart, it means the dates are not less than 3 months apart, inclusive of dates.
I correct the dates to be less than 3 months – 1 March to 31 May, as I realise that I’m going to have to work out the last date of the month for each end period. Thirty days hath April, June…how does it go?
I hit the Export button.
Oh dear! I get a timeout message meaningless to most users. It really wasn’t any significant time before I submitted the form. Not only that, it’s dumped me out of the popup dialog into the main window without giving me any navigation buttons to return to my account.
Unhelpfully it’s cleared the dates I entered, so I enter them again and give it another shot now that I’m in this main window. I press the Export button. Nothing happens, but a few seconds later, the download appears in the browser bar at the bottom. No success message though, and the SOAP error message is confusingly still there.
But, ok, this is progress – I got a download! I change the dates to 1 June and 31 August for the next (less than) 3 month period, and press the Export button. Nothing, but hey, I’m used to that now because I got no message and had to wait a few seconds for the download to appear last time.
I wait a few seconds. I wait a bit longer. Nothing. I click the Export button again. Nothing. The form is dead. Dead as a dodo shaped doornail.
So here’s where I need that button to get back to my account page, but there isn’t one remember. There is no relevant link on the page. Even the Lloyds TSB logo is not a home page link. I have to use the browser back button history to get back to my account, and start over again.
Now if things had gone smoothly, without the SOAP timeout error, what would have happened is that the popup dialog would have simply disappeared (this being the standard albeit insufficient success indicator) and a few seconds later the download would have appeared. The form, it seems, is not meant to be re-used – it’s just meant to disappear when you’re done. However, because the SOAP timeout error had dumped me into the main page, it couldn’t disappear after the first successful export, but it did effectively disable itself from working again. Probably behind the scenes, each instance of the form has a unique id that means it can’t be resubmitted, but it’s impossible for users to see or know this.
It’s worth noting here that what is meant to happen from Lloyds’ point of view is that for each period you want to download a statement, you need to enter the dates afresh in a new dialog. No chance of remembering the previous dates. No button to do the next 150 transactions or the next 3 months, or anything useful, just an assumption that Right, you’re done. If you want more, do it all again. No thought as to what users might want to do next. It’s enough to make a grown UX’er cry.
Moving on, I go back to the Statement Export popup dialog and get back to downloading a statement for my second period. This time it works. Occasionally. Sometimes I get the SOAP timeout error and are dumped into the main window again, and sometimes, there’s just a ‘technical problem’, but at least there’s a button to get back to my accounts though!
Gradually though, I get more and more bits of statement downloaded.
When I get to the end of 2011, I make a mistake by making the second date as 31 January 2011, instead of 2012. Fair enough. My bad!
I change the date to 2012, but the error doesn’t go away. I change the month to February to see if that makes it go away. Well it kind of does in that the big box error disappears, but the error at the top remains.
It had helpfully changed the date to 29th for me (only 29 days in Feb 2012). Now I want to change the date back to 31 January. I change the date from 29 to 31, and click the month field. Whoaa! Error under the drop down list – what’s that say?
I click away from the drop down list to see the message underneath.
Well the message there has clearly been brought about by having an invalid date for the month, but I’m right in the middle of sorting that out thank you very much! I’m obviously expected to change the month and then the date, even though at every point up to now I’ve entered date, then month.
When I tried a bit later, I had a quite similar situation with an invalid date/month combination, but this time the message was Please enter a value. What – I did! Tell me what’s actually wrong with it please?
In this case I changed the month to January. The message remained:
But actually the form is now valid and you can go and click the Export button and get the download (if there isn’t a technical problem!)
Now some of this is down to when the form checks the values – it does it on the focus-out of a field in the form, but it could save a whole lot of confusion by doing it more interactively. It’s also why I was not told of the 3 month date constraint before I clicked the Export button – the click of the button forces the focus-out which kicks off the error message. There’s also a broken link between the message at the top of the box and the highlighted fields, in that if the form is corrected, the message at the top should disappear too.
All in all, a pretty abysmal experience trying to export something that should have been able to be done in a single step in the first place.
I make no attempt to disguise the fact that this article is largely a rant. However, this was a real documented experience, and I don’t believe myself to be alone in receiving this kind of online banking service.
This is nothing short of a great example of bad UX.
My hope is that by documenting it here, others will learn how not to provide such a service online, and that possibly, just possibly, by the time I come round to doing this again next year, something might have been done about it.
In an ideal situation where banks are the domain experts of the financial world, shouldn’t it be possible to log in to your account after the end of a tax period and find a message:
“To export your account transactions for the last tax year, click here.”
Wouldn’t that be nice!
I’d love my bank again if they did that.