Convenience trumps security

Published on the 25/06/2013 | Written by Gerry McGovern


Encryption that is very hard to crack by the NSA (the US spy agency) has existed for years. But it’s not easy to use so hardly anyone does. We trade convenience for security says Gerry McGovern…

“During the 1990s, a ‘cypherpunk’ movement predicted that ubiquitous, user-friendly cryptographic software would make it impossible for governments to spy on ordinary users’ private communications,” Timothy B. Lee wrote for the Washington Post in June 2013.

Today, there’s plenty of software that can withstand NSA snooping but nearly nobody uses it. Why? Because, “consumers have overwhelmingly chosen convenience and usability,” Lee writes. “Mainstream communications tools are more user-friendly than their cryptographically secure competitors.”

Convenience is the brand equity of our age. In an increasingly complex world we will pay a premium for things that are easy-to-use. The most precious thing we have is our time. The harder things are the more expensive they are.

I have an account with Danske bank. It used to be very easy to login but a couple of years ago they made it more secure and now there are multiple steps. I hate it. It’s the equivalent of going through airport security every time I want to check my account. However, once I do get past the tortuous login, most things are very well designed and easy to use.

I have another account with Bank of Ireland. It has a simple login, which is great, but from then on its interface is like something you’d discover during an archaeological dig. I have a great manager at Bank of Ireland, who is always extremely helpful. I have told him that I would move all my business to his bank if only the online banking were easier to use.

Like many Irish banks, Bank of Ireland has gone through very difficult times during the financial crisis. Senior management has obviously decided not to invest in improving the online banking. I suppose the logic is that they can’t afford to.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with an executive at Irish airline, Aer Lingus, many years ago. The airline was in serious financial difficulties and a new CEO had just been appointed. He relentlessly focused on making the online booking process easier for customers. Within less than three years, online bookings rose from 3% to 73%, which helped put the airline on a much more solid financial footing.

Making things convenient for customers makes good business sense. It delivers tremendous return on investment. So, why don’t more organisations focus on convenience?

Organisations are generally very good at measuring costs, but they are usually very poor at measuring the value that derives from making customers’ lives easier. The new Aer Lingus CEO recognised that the old policy where customers were only allowed to buy return flights was inconvenient. He asked that customers be allowed to buy one-way tickets if they wanted.

He was told that that would be a very expensive thing to do. However, he had calculated that the extra value (more bookings) would be greater than the extra cost. He was proven to be right.

In the short term, creating simplicity for the customer almost inevitably involves creating complexity and extra costs for the organisation. We need better management models that allow us to measure the value.

Gerry McGovern is an expert in customer-centric technology, CEO of Customer Carewords and a five-time published author. He helps large organisations become more customer centric on the web. His clients include Microsoft, Cisco, VMware, IBM, Atlas Copco and Tetra Pak.

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