is keeping a financial services site up really that difficult?

I guess I shouldn’t expect much on a Saturday night, but first Wachovia’s got half their site dead (and while the online banking was up, the listing showed me each transaction 5 separate times in the transaction list), and now, while trying to create JTMac’s Coverdell account (which was about 15 pages worth of data to input), Vanguard spews forth a _great_ error message.  (Note, I put these 2 in the category of place that should have “infinite” uptime, simply because the dev jobs I considered with Bank of America were for sites in that vein, at least by their description during the interviews :).

On a side note, one of those 15 pages was asking about the information about the minor.  Since Mac’s SSN hasn’t come in yet, I was happy to see the checkbox for “SSN applied for but not yet assigned” (which is still sad, IMHO, as Mac’s now over a month old).  The problem is clicking that checkbox starts what seems like full page refreshes on each change of focus to a new textbox after it’s checked.  I’m mildly curious as to what check they’re doing there, and so I view source, only to see the first 5 pages of the source are blank text, apparently in a security-through-obscurity attempt (I’m guessing) for people to only see a blank page and hopefully not notice the scroll bars.

The Online Process Is Unavailable

WeÒ€ℒre sorry; due to technical difficulties, the online application process is unavailable at this time. Please try again later or, for immediate assistance, print this page and contact us with the error code and time listed below.

Error code 12345678 <– changed just in case
Time Sun Dec 10 00:13:23 EST 2006

Note that this is loading a page that should have both created an account and initiated a $2,000 transfer from my checking account.  Did the account get created?  Did the transfer get queued up?  I want to believe “no” for both, because while I hate the above experience, I’m willing to believe that they’re at least doing sane transactional logic (if financial services places aren’t getting _that_ right, then their customers should be leaving in droves).

So, I decide to be brave and reload the page (re-posting the same data). Now, admittedly, with many systems there are tokens in place for checking things like “hit submit twice”, but I would expect the second and later page loads to give something informative, or at least friendly.  Instead, I get:

Your Online Application Is Unavailable

You can no longer access your online application. Click Continue to go to Vanguard’s homepage or contact us for assistance.

I try a few other variations, but the end result is the same – those 15 pages of information I put in are gone.  Do I bother trying so again, or do I create JTMac’s Coverdell elsewhere?

Well, I’m morbidly curious at this point, so I go ahead and run through the entire process again (same data as the first time), and this time I get a very “we’ve funneled it to a human” kind of response.  I hate those in an online system – go create the rows and tell me my account number (or whatever primary key is relevant) now.

Confirmation

We are processing your request. You’ll be able to view your new account number and account information online within 24 hours in the Accounts and Activities area of our site. Contact us if you have any questions.

Confirmation number  W08675309 <– changed just in case

Thank you. Your request was sent to Vanguard for processing.

On the bright side, at least the account is likely to exist and be funded by the 12/31 cut-off.  I hope.  But, no doubt, I’m now stuck adding a todo item to my list to actually _confirm_ this as I’m not completely trustworthy of Vanguard’s processes. πŸ™‚

Now, I’ve run the corporate web sites with the Sunday night maintenance windows and network load balancers and whatnot, and I’m sure I’ll get some flame-y response of “it’s far more difficult than you think!”, but I think it’s reasonable that the bar for online experience be pretty high for a large financial services site (especially account creation!  Don’t they want new business?), and these two both smacked right into it.

governments need to save money, too

Since just a couple days ago I was discussing over lunch how I’m in favor of legalization for purely economic reasons (reduce/eliminate the justice department‘s burden of enforcement, create taxes, just like we already have on alcohol/tobacco/firearms … but there’s the other point of view, too) I thought this was interesting to learn how other governments are saving money on prisons themselves.

What do you think?  Origami, LoJack Edition.

Prisoners’ Tracking – inventing new ways to address prison overpopulation

Poland has taken a step even further, by proposing to implement the concept of ‘Virtual Prisons’. Using similar GPS-based technologies, the Polish Government wants to impose curfews and secure perimeters to prisoners with sentences of six months or less. Here again, the objectives are to free-up some prison space, as well as to drive a cost-efficienct approach (a ‘virtual prisoner’ is expected to cost half the price of a traditionally incarcerated prisoner) to the issue of re-soliacisation of criminals.

what's important in a home equity line of credit?

One of the things I’m trying to weigh now is the various options and considerations of a home equity line of credit.

Any advice?  If you happen to run across this and have a home equity loan or home equity line of credit, is there any advice you would give to others?

    new year, time to check your insurance coverage!

    There’s a set of things you should do at least (and sometimes, at most) once a year, and for me one of the things in that category includes checking your various insurance policies and making sure things (deductibles, clauses, benefits, beneficiaries, etc.) make sense given where you, your family, and your life are all at (it’s always about context, isn’t it?)

    With that in mind, go check out this article – it’s got some good advice and nice links to others: New Year is Perfect Time to Check Your Insurance Coverage

    As you make your plans for 2006, take a moment to think about all the things that could go wrong in the next 12 months. Fire. Theft. Untimely death. Once you’ve completed this gloomy exercise, review your insurance policies. There’s a good chance that you’re not adequately prepared for misfortune.

    A recent survey found that millions of Americans are underinsured in several critical areas. But the study also found that many of them are paying for coverage they don’t need. The survey was conducted by Trusted Choice, a group of insurance agencies and financial firms.

    home equity loan vs. home equity line of credit – which is for you?

    More as a backstop than anything else, I’m about to get around to finally getting a home equity line of credit (aka HELOC).  Many people say to make a “rainy day fund” and put six months worth of cash in it.  I’m sorry, but I hate the thought of that much money sitting in an account and doing (relatively) nothing.  I’m closer to 30 years from retirement than 3, so I just don’t see how I can afford to leave that much money being lazy.

    Since we have enough equity in the house (LTV‘s under 40%), I’d rather just leverage the home equity as a backstop in case of financial emergency.  The way I figure it is this:  If I sack away the case into a rainy day fund, I’m guaranteed to lose money (consider it an opportunity cost), as that money won’t be in a higher-yield investment (even something as boring as an index fund).  If I instead go the route for a home equity line of credit (for instance), I only take a financial hit if I end up needing the money.  I have nothing against a home equity loan instead, but I don’t really see needing to take a wad of cash out for some long-term payback.

    Clark‘s response is always that you don’t want to put your primary residence at risk, and if I were less disciplined, I’d probably agree.  However, I don’t view the home equity line of credit as anything but an emergency source of cash.  For what it’s worth, a quick search shows that at least one learned source agrees with me πŸ™‚  As the end of that article says, you don’t really want to be paycheck-to-paycheck, and I agree – I keep ~6 weeks in checking, which keeps me from having to worry too much about things like Christmas purchases causing us to be overdrawn πŸ™‚

    By the way, for those of you that may already know that I live in North Carolina, the question of “Hey, North Carolina has a homestead law, right?  Wouldn’t that protect your primary residence?” may pop in your head.  If it does, good for you, but that law doesn’t protect you in the case of a home equity loan or home equity line of credit.  The article in the NC Constitution specifically excludes cases where you specifically used the home as collateral for a loan, and both of these are squarely in that category.