When processes go wrong

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In the world today, withdrawing money from the ATM is a very routine thing. It is as routine as getting up in the morning and going through your daily chores and then to have your breakfast and so on. Very routine, everyday and almost mechanical activities that one gets involved in.

So is withdrawing money from the ATM.

Basically, its a very simple 5 step process:

  1. You wait for your turn in front of an ATM machine if there is a queue.
  2. You insert your money card and follow the instructions as given by the machine. With a little tweak of steps, each bank pretends to be different to this highly banal process.
  3. You ignore all the advertisements in the duration.
  4. The ATM checks the following 4 things for a successful transaction –
    • Checks the card and PIN integrity
    • Checks whether the money in the account is more than the amount entered to be withdrawn
    • Checks whether the amount desired is not exceeding the permissible limits of daily withdrawal
    • Checks if enough money is there in the ATM to serve the need
  5. And finally delivers the money through the cash window

What could possibly go wrong in such an activity as long as –

  • The card and PIN integrity is true
  • The money in the account is more than the money desired in withdrawal
  • The permissible daily limit of withdrawal is not breached
  • And the ATM is capable of dispensing the required cash

However, if you are ICICI Bank, you could have additional possibilities despite all these checks –

  1. You could be subject to ‘suspicious activity’ in the account
  2. You could be subject to multiple robocalls from the bank claiming that they are not able to confirm the transaction. So either you accept the transaction or get your account ‘blocked’.

I faced this situation yesterday when a simple transaction went horribly wrong.

On its own, ICICI Bank decided to block my card for over 1 hr just because as I had a failed attempt to withdraw cash from their bank’s ATM. This was despite the fact that there was nothing unusual from my side in the transaction. There was enough money in my account to withdraw. The PIN was correct and this was my first transaction of the day with the bank.

As soon as I got out from the ATM with the failed transaction, I got relentless calls from their robocalling system to either confirm the transaction or reject and block the card.

Finally, I called their call center and asked them if I have been cursed by them today as I made an attempt to withdraw my own money from their ATM. The call center associate profusely apologised but kept referring to ‘the team’ that can tell why it has been blocked.

Anyway, the ordeal lasted for a couple of hours and by then the purpose of going to the ATM and withdrawing cash had been fulfilled by some other mechanisms.

The entire episode made me wonder what could have potentially gone wrong in a rather straight forward transaction.

Here are some of the things –

  1. Was it the poorly written fraud detection algorithm that threw a false alarm from the system?
  2. Was it the wrong rules setup by the people who defined this system?
  3. The process of the bank itself was flawed. There was absolutely no synch between the call center conversation and the robocalling queue. During the 5 minute conversation with the call center executive, I got 3 calls from the robocalling queue.
  4. The process is poorly written. The only options that the robocalling mechanism gave me were either to accept that the transaction was through or to get the card blocked. The card got blocked irrespective so that option was redundant.
  5. The call center executive told me that the block will go away in 30-40 minutes. However, the relentless robocalling continued even after the discussion. The robocalling queue seemed like a bullet that couldnt be stopped once your name gets added there.
  6. And finally, the call center executive didnt have enough details of the problem. He kept apologising but didnt know the reason why. I still dont know.

With more and more digitalisation coming into play, understanding the user experience is becoming more and more important. Flaw in the fraud detection process or logic is a thing that would surface again in the future. However, its the lack of clarity of the reasons and then relentless calling through robocalling left the whole episode in a very bad taste.

Perhaps the product managers can take a few notes from this experience of mine.

Internet #Fasting – #Disconnect for a Day

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A couple of days back the powerhouse of social media, Facebook(FB), underwent a long outage. All entities of FB that is photo sharing platform Instagram, chatting service Whatsapp, FB messenger and the website FB itself were beyond the reach of a lot of people for close to six hours.

Things went funny as CEO of another social media platform, smaller in size though, chided Mark Zuckerberg if the facebook.com domain name was up for sale.

Facebook covers more than 30% of the world in terms of its average active user counts. With a staggering 2.7 Billion users latching on it, the outage affected many people.

Not going into the nitty gritty of what went wrong and the root cause analysis of the technical problem that led to this, it was clear that a large percentage of people suddenly had some time away from the media.

An important side effect of the whole thing was that people found themselves with some time. There were posts on Twitter of people doing something with their families or with their pets, browsing through books, listening to music, just chit-chatting etc.

With the social media down, the social animal called human being became more social as the unsocial monotony via a medium was just not available.

While, not much affected but I took some time off to play with my young son and tried to teach him a few things with a cricket bat.

It also made me think what would happen if one were to spend a day without the internet at all.

A common distraction that I face, sometimes even while on lunch, is the temptation to respond to people over emails or slack. Knowing this is something of an extremely unhealthy habit, the outage gave me some time to introspect and think what does one lose if there is no internet for a day.

As an experiment, I am thinking of making one Sunday of the month as an ‘Internet fasting Day’. This would be the day when I will not latch onto any medium to spend time or ‘browse’- mobile, OTT, Television, laptops, iPads… nothing.

I would just bare essentials needed for day to day is what I would use. Being a Sunday, I would not be distracted by any work related needs, hopefully.

Lets see how this goes. I plan to do the first such on Sunday Oct 24, 2021. Wish me luck!

Excitement of new discoveries

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I write this post from a window side seat of an Indigo flight from Pune to my hometown New Delhi.

While we just took off from the Lohegaon airport, the journey is already enjoyable and fun-filled.

The primary reason is an energetic group of 15-16 odd co-passengers who seemingly are on a leisure trip. With the number of kids in the group, one wonders how did they manage to skip the essential mundaneness of their school? But the kids are only making the rather boring flight deck, more buzzing with activity.

As the flight rolled out from the parking bay, the group made very loud chants to pray their beloved God with an elephant head, Ganapati.

In Maharashtra, today is a big day with Ganapati visarjan (immersion into a water body) of a sthapit (established) Lord statue at home. This is typically a 5, 7, 9 or perhaps 11 days affair. The last day, that is today, typically sees many groups heading to the water bodies of all sizes to do the immersion. Covid has of course led to calls of adherence to strict guidelines issued by the local admin. Its a very special day in the state.

I was reading the Sunday edition of the Economic Times, but my ears were alertly catching the discussions of the group.

The part of the group right behind my seat seemed to be traveling in the aeroplane for the first time. The young kids started describing the whole process of flight take off both with great level of detail and also with lot of excitement.

As the plane was taking a mandatory U-turn on the Pune runway, the shrill voice of one kid drew everyone’s attention outside the window. Another started asking if plane can go in reverse. Frankly, even I dont know if a plane can go in reverse on its own.

The plane then started climbing elevation and the group’s excitement also escalated.

There were chorus of voices filled with amazement as they reviewed each and every scenario that the beautiful morning threw at us.

The shrinking Pune skyline, for no better choice of words, was described as an amazing toy land.

The mighty Sun was welcomed with another set of loud cheers.

The scattered clouds in a clear blue sky were appreciated for their abundance.

As all this was unfolding behind me, I was trying to jog my memory and find the last time I appreciated this routine part of life and nature so excitingly.

Unfortunately, I couldnt recall any. This makes me feel more sombre and surreal.

If anything the last 20 odd months have taught us is the importance of this beauty of small things that is embedded in our surroundings but often ignored by us.

I felt rejuvenated by the experience. This is just the perfect gift to end my trip where I have embarked onto a very exciting exploration.

As I sat back and enjoyed the rest of the journey, I played through the entire week that went by in Pune. The things I did and I didnt.

I am glad that the child in me is still prevailing in some very important aspects of my life.