A Down Economy Takes Control of User Experience – WaMu Becomes Chase

It’s no secret to physical retailers that good user experience means good _customer_ experience. My friends in the retail world would probably be horrified referring to their customers as something clinical like a user. Somehow the old notion of putting your product online equating to automatic sales just doesn’t fly anymore. You might sell, but you won’t be a category lead without some real thought behind how people access your product.

I recently received an email from Washington Mutual about the upcoming rollout of their services on Chase.com. And from what I read, I’m not very happy. The email I received was pretty unclear, will I still have the same capabilities? Do I need to gather all of my payee accounts? Are you keeping the same servers and just switching a logo and dns entry? (Normal people don’t ask that question.)

Why I Chose WaMu in the First Place

I’ve been a pretty loyal customer of Washington Mutual for about seven years. I first began banking with them while I was an intern prowling the streets of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. WaMu won my substantial ($200) account balance based on the following:

  • They had a branch right by the train station on Canal and Broadway. I could get cash pretty easily to pay my rent. My landlord wanted cash.
  • They weren’t going to fee me to death. They acknowledged they made no money on my checking account. They relied on the hope that I might apply for a mortgage or deposit account in the future.
Why I Stayed With WaMu

At the time I signed up, the online banking UI for WaMu was good enough, not great, but I wasn’t paying many bills (that weren’t in cash) those days. So I wasn’t that concerned. Fast-forward a couple of years, and I was paying a lot of bills, and WaMu had changed their online banking experience – a lot.

The UI took a little exploration to get used to, but after a while I was very satisfied. Someone had obviously put a lot of thought into my needs before wireframing this whole thing out. Again, not perfect, nothing ever is, but I can safely say that my confidence in their online banking experience as a best in class experience was what kept me there so long.

Enter the Chase Acquisition

Discussions about shareholders and taxpayer dollars aside, I was not happy about the Chase acquisition of WaMu. Not because I felt I would get an inferior product, but because I was that attached to the WaMu conception of online banking. As long as my experience was as good or better, I could have cared less what logo was on it.

All WaMu online account holders just received notice that as of 07.17.2009 all WaMu online accounts will be rolled into Chase.com. While it was probably naive to think anything otherwise would happen, I’m curious to see how this all plays out.

People are resistant to change. Anyone who has spent time creating for any interactive medium knows how true that really is. Once people have an experience they are satisfied with, they’ll do anything to protect it.

I’m hopeful that the UX people involved in Chase.com operations did as good as the people at WaMu. If anything this is first hand evidence of an occasion where a solid experience defines more of the brand than any kind of marketing.