Scary error message

August 13, 2014

Westpac, one of Australia’s ‘Big Four’ banks, has been rolling out a new online banking design across Australia for a few months. It was Western Australia’s turn recently. I’ve successfully used the new interface to make a couple of payments, but today I came to a screeching halt as my payment wouldn’t go through. I tried twice and got this message:


I followed their advice and called. After being on hold for about 10 minutes, I explained the situation to the customer service rep, and she asked if I’d received the SMS verification code. I hadn’t, AND I hadn’t been asked to enter it either — I just got this error message.

While she was on the line, I tried a third time and this time I was asked for the SMS verification code, which I received within seconds on my phone. After entering the code, it all worked.

So, why this blog post? Because the error message I got from the bank could well frighten some customers, particularly those who are being dragged kicking and screaming into online banking whether they want it or not.


  • Large, almost red ‘Access unavailable’ heading that tells you very little.
  • An indecipherable message: ‘Sufficient entitlements or verification is required…’ — What are ‘entitlements’ in this context, sufficient or otherwise? And what is ‘verification’? Yes, after I spoke to the customer service person, I learned that it was likely related to the SMS verification code, but that’s NOT what the message says.
  • URL that contains words like ‘error’, ‘forbidden’, and ‘entitlement denied’. Nothing like scaring your customers!

In their favor, they at least gave a phone number to call, but it’s a generic phone number for the entire bank, not a specific number for online banking or online banking using the new system — I had to press a few buttons and talk into the void to get that far, and then I was on hold for nearly 10 minutes before someone could answer my query. In the meantime, my banking session timed out after 5 minutes of inactivity on the site and I had to re-enter my password.

Overall, I don’t mind the new interface (see note below), and timing out and requiring you to re-enter your password after 5 minutes is a good idea too. But they really need to work on their error messages so that they don’t scare their customers if something goes wrong. Perhaps a list of possible reasons for this error message would help.

NOTE: One final thing: Although the new interface is clean and easy to use, it DOESN’T use responsive design!! While they tout that it’s for all devices — phones, tablets, desktops, etc. — the design for desktops isn’t responsive.  (I haven’t tried it on my phone or tablet, so can’t report how responsive the design is on those devices.) On my desktop PC, I have my monitors swivelled into ‘portrait’ mode to make it easier for me to work on long documents, but the bank’s design for desktop is a fixed width in the browser viewport, and I have to scroll horizontally unless I make the viewport much wider and spread it across two monitors. VERY BAD design. And yes, I’ve lodged a complaint about it.

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