Copyright © 2015-2019 Michael R. Keller
archive by Andres Gleixner from the Noun Project
archive by Andres Gleixner from the Noun Project
Disclosure: I used to work for the bank discussed in this post in the technology group of their wealth management division.
Most of you have received credit card offers in the mail. They follow a pretty standard format. The envelope is covered in credit card and bank logos. Plastic window. Fake credit card included so when you pick up the envelope you instinctively think it must be a replacement card, forcing you to open it and see their pitch.
Of course, real replacement cards are never sent in this manner. Every replacement card I've ever gotten has been in a plain white envelope with a simple PO Box or other innocuous return address in the upper-left-hand corner. This is not done to save money, but to avoid alerting potential thieves of who the sender is.
This provides an interesting dichotomy. Fake credit cards loudly blare their provenance while real ones cloak themselves in anonymity.
Not too long ago a card of mine had to be replaced because charges were made at various locations in Florida. I found the plain white envelope in my mail with the slight card-shaped bulge and quickly opened it to activate the new card.
It was credit-card spam, along with the prerequisite fake card.
The spammers had adopted to the expectations of consumers who had grown too smart to be taken in by the logo'd spam. They were now adopting anonymity because consumer expectations of what an important piece of mail looks like had changed. We saw this proceed at a much faster pace with email spam, though there spammers have to get past both the user's mental filters and algorithmic ones.
Today I got another plain white envelope. Happy to have finally received the replacement card, I opened it... to find another fake card. This one didn't even bother to have fake numbers printed. The front just had the bank logo, the chip, and my name. I went to toss the whole of it into the trash.
At the last moment, I stopped when I noticed that there seemed to be a shadow moving in the card's "art". I inspected it closely and realized that this was the genuine card replacement. While I knew about the new chip system (and already have debit cards with it), this had several major unheralded differences which had thrown me for a loop.
All information other than the bank logo and my name were missing from the front. No number, no date, no credit card logo to be found. The back of the card had all of it, along with the magnetic strip, hologram, and a signature panel repositioned to make room for all of the information now added on the back.
In addition, the numbers were now just printed on instead of embossed. Or debossed. I'm not going to look up which is which. Regardless, the perfect flatness of the card was disconcerting. Even now, it looks fake to me without the raised numbers. Like something they'd put in a child's playset. Looking at the rest of the contents of the envelope, there was nothing outlining these changes. The chip was mentioned, but nothing else.
From a purely functional standpoint, the raised numbers are wholly unnecessary. No store is going to whip out an imprint device to make carbon copies to process a purchase. Well, maybe Sears, if they're still around. Or some hipster vintage t-shirt pop-up store in Brooklyn. But no store I would go to.
But this is a failure in expectations management. I've been trained for a decade on what a debit/credit card looks like. They changed it without warning. When combined with spammers' increasingly sophisticated techniques, the new card design failed to identify itself as a credit card and almost ended up in the trash because of it.
It's bad product management when the spammers are managing consumer expectations better than my bank.
United States currency has undergone many redesigns in my lifetime in the name of security, which was the reason that credit cards are changing. Yet, I have never once almost thrown away a twenty because I thought it was fake. Why not?
I remember when the Treasury revealed the first redesign with colored backgrounds. I remember the jokes about Monopoly money. But the release of those bills came and went without much of a hitch. This was because they properly managed expectations.
The new money didn't just show up one day in ATMs. If it had, I guarantee you people would be storming the teller windows demanding real money. Instead, the Treasury had widely publicized the changes months in advance. Everyone knew what was coming. Even if they thought the changes looked dumb, they also knew exactly what those dumb changes looked like.
What Could Have Been Done
With apologies to M1, credit and debit cards are the new currency. You can't change how it looks without warning people in advance. The chip addition was relatively well-managed. Consumers and businesses were told many times both directly from the issuers and via mass media what the chips looked like and how they worked.
For this flat-card redesign, the bank is at a bit of a disadvantage because it isn't a national change. The Today show isn't going to do a segment on it. However, the bank could had sent direct notices to its customers about what to expect the way they had with the chip. In this case, not even the envelope containing the new card explained the flat design! That's just poor expectations management.