I've been putting off this post for just, like, way too long. I wanted to make a mock-up of a hypothetical website before writing it, but I've been having some trouble with InDesign on my laptop and haven't had the emotional energy to call Adobe and ask what's up yet. There are some technologies that are obviously inadequate, compared to what is possible with the tech, but they remain the way they are because they've been that way since before anyone could have begun to imagine what resources would be available. Things like how the electoral college works, or the degraded audio quality of phone calls, or -- y'know, cars.
One of the ones that's been annoying me lately is bank accounts.
At one point, it was pretty sensible that the division of money into separate accounts should be restricted, because any increase in the complexity of tracking finances would substantially increase the bank's overhead. After all, they are by far the institution facing the greatest pressure not to misplace any of those numbers.
Now, though, it would be trivially easy to set up bank accounts like folders on a computer. It should be trivially easy, for example, to break up your checking account into separate folders for bills, food budget, entertainment budget, discretionary spending, etc.
It should even be easy to set up elements on those folders that indicate how much ought to be in them at any given time. "Car Payment: $ 45/110, next charge May 15," for example. You should be able to set up your debit card to deduct cash from the Groceries account when charged at your grocery store, and from the general budget the rest of the time. Services should decline your card if you try and spend money that's not in the folder your card draws from, rather than automatically dipping into your car payment money when you aren't going to notice.
Savings, too, should be divisible. New laptop fund: $ 225/1100. You should be able to define finance goals as variables. Emergency savings: $ 5500/5250. (Emergency savings = sum(bills)*6 months)
This is the kind of stuff that would be obvious -- it would be immediate features out of the gate -- if banks were just starting up now. It's the kind of stuff tech start-ups would race to outdo each other in. Banks would be leaping over themselves to make your account as budgeting-friendly as possible.
But banks have been around for hundreds of years, and it'll take a long, long time to shake them from the idea that each account is worth charging you for, and that they shouldn't be helping you stop yourself from spending money you can't afford to spend.
(They'd probably speed up a hell of a lot if a new-tech startup got in the game, though.)
I'd argue that in a sense, this almost elevates to the level of a human rights issue -- certainly it's a human well-being issue. Banks should do everything they can to make it easy for us, the users, to create barriers against accidentally misusing our money, and smooth the path toward intentional, careful budgeting. It should all be wrapped up in a neat little bow on the website. It should be trivially easy to make it almost impossible to spend your mortgage payment on CDs. Your bank account should practically drag you toward responsible budgeting and effective money handling.
To be honest, the more I think about how obvious, how easy, it should be, the more sickening it is to be aware how completely banks are set up to help you overdraw and mismanage your accounts.