An open letter to NatWest bank

Subject: Strict Browser restrictions

Hi, I’m a customer of yours, and a GNU/Linux user who gets frequently frustrated by your browser detection.

Basically, the problem is that very few web browsers have been certified with your website. Now, I have no real issue with that, nobody has enough time to try every web browser in the world, and adjust their websites to fit around every browser’s bugs. But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to reject your users with a message like “The Internet browser you are using is not supported by online banking. Use the link below to see the complete list of browsers we support.”

Firstly, the browsers I use are listed as being supported on your list [1]:

  • On this laptop, I use a Firefox 3.0 beta. Firefox 3.0 is listed is being supported, and it works (if I tweak it to identify it as Firefox 2.0, then I can use the site just fine).
  • On my desktops, I use Iceweasel 2.x. Iceweasel is Firefox with a different name, to get around trademark issues. Ask your Linux-techies, they should know about it. Again, it works as expected.

Secondly, [1] states: “Netscape, Mozilla and Firefox users with other operating systems such as Linux may also be able to access the service.” How are we supposed to access the service if you deny us access?

More generally, locking out unknown browsers goes completely against your policy of Accessibility [2]. While the WAI [3] doesn’t specifically recommend against turning away unknown browsers, I think you’ll find that’s because the authors didn’t even dream of considering such a thing. The entire point of WAI, is to make your site as portable as possible, and to work for everyone with a far wider variety of user agents than you could ever test with.

I don’t know how you can call yourself WAI-compliant and reject un-“certified” browsers. Your webmasters should hang their heads in shame.

Now, I don’t intend to rant any more than that, because that’s the only problem I have with your site (and your service). Beyond this little niggle (which stops me being able to bank, without configuring my browser to lie) I’m very impressed with your services.

Please sort this out, it’ll turn me back into a happy customer.


PS: I’d have sent this by e-mail, where I’d, but you don’t provide any e-mail contact details on your site. PPS: Only providing a small feedback form doesn’t help users give you real feedback, it just intimidates and irritates them.


Stefano Rivera
H: +27 21 794 7937 C: +27 72 419 8559

Now, that was rather harsh to them, but this has been irritating me for ages. Then, when I did decide to do something about it, I was rather worked up, and ranted.

I got a call back from NatWest this morning, and was basically told that they aren’t going to change anything. I can understand their position, but I don’t that they were seeing mine. (Oh, and I think they are wrong.)

The reasons I was given for this non-approved lockout are:

  1. Support. But of course, if your web site is decent, then you shouldn’t have any support issues. (OK, that’s rather utopic, but the kind of people who use alternative browsers will be OK in such situations).
  2. Security. Apparently Opera caches previously visited pages as they were. Clicking back doesn’t revalidate with the server, and so someone who’s logged out of their Internet banking and gone on to google still has their private data visible in the history. Anyone coming up to their computer can go back to it.

Now, I don’t think point 2 is NatWest’s problem. If Opera doesn’t support revalidation, then Opera must fix it. If Opera do, and NatWest doesn’t send the correct Pragma headers, then it’s NatWest’s problem.

But still, that doesn’t mean you lock-out untested browers, dammit. Especially if you call yourself WAI-compliant.

I’d love to see some feedback from a WAI board member on this type of issue. I don’t think the WAI specs address it.

Oh, and everyone, please stand up for your right to browse the web however you see fit. If more people did so, these kind of issues would crop up less often.

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