First Direct demonstrate how not to do a switchover

I bank with First Direct, mostly because I used to have a mortgage with them. I guess I should revisit this. Anyway, they're performing a switchover from Visa to Mastercard. They sent me a swish new card, along with a letter telling me how easy it would be.

I tried to use the new card, in a rather nice restaurant. For whatever reason, it didn't go through. I tried my old card, it also didn't go through. I did manage to pay in the end, so I didn't have to do lots of dish-washing, but it was pretty painful.

Thereafter, I tried again in a supermarket. Both old and new declined. I phoned up First Direct, and apparently there's no fraud stop, I've just been unlucky (?!). The bonus is that as soon as the new card is used, the old card is blocked, so any attempt to use the old card is mysteriously declined, despite me thinking I had a grace period.

My old card being blocked is frustrating because it's not clear the new card is actually working. The advice from the fraud person at First Direct is that I go and explicitly use chip-and-pin at some shop to activate it. The only problems are a) I thought I'd tried that, b) I've been having health issues and don't really fancy going to the shops unnecessarily c) there's not much I actually want to buy, and resent the idea of just spending money to activate a card.

Still, with the old card blocked and the new card yet to be activated, there's no real issue, is there? It's not like I've got the old card used for stuff in such a way that a sudden surprise block is going to cause problems, is it? Oh, hang on, I am using my debit card for a whole bunch of online things, and got my first "Uh, your regular card payment was declined" mail today. I've just signed myself up for Bulk Account Details Update Time. Hurrah.

I didn't foresee any of this, as the nice letter accompanying the card told me it'd be easy. In retrospect, it is easy, just for First Direct, not me. They've done the absolute minimum in this transition, and it sucks.

What would an effective transition look like? Make it easy for the customers. One thing you learn when running large systems, is that unless you actively hate your customers/users, you should be ready for dual-running. It makes you more resilient to failure, and it makes life easier for the user. So, give your customers a grace period of, say, just over a month from the new card being used successfully to the old card being deactivated. Maybe don't deactivate the old card when you've only seen the new card have a voided transaction?

For online transactions from stored details, the ideal customer-centric solution involves no work: When a transaction is declined, the error message can be of the form "Card no longer valid, switch to these details instead", and systems could auto-update with the new card automatically (informing the customer as they do so). Of course, we don't live in such a world, as that would be convenient.

Instead, we have to assume that customers will be updating a bunch of details. If you want to make the transition as easy as possible, create a report beforehand of what's likely to need updating, for each customer. They've presumably got "customer not present" details for the card transaction, and repeat online transactions are not likely to have you entering in the card number each time.

Then, during the transition period after the new card's been activated, regularly create a report of when you used the old card, which'll remind you not to use it when physically present, and prompt you to update details on the auto-payment systems. This should all be integrated into the app. After all, this is an online bank, right? App integration of significant changes, like the provider of debit card services, should be bread-and-butter.

But no, here we are. Maybe I need to investigate whether the new digital banks are any better.

Posted 2021-08-10.