For months, PNC Bank customers have complained online that they’re having trouble using third party payment apps like Venmo.
Jim Hargreaves owns a packaging design business in Mt. Lebanon, and said he first ran into a problem last month. A customer he regularly works with received an error message when trying to pay an invoice through the app Harvest, which Hargreaves has used for months. Both Hargreaves and the customer use Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank.
A few days later, Hargreaves found his own PNC bank account was unable to connect to Venmo. When he contacted PNC customer service, he received a message saying that the difficulty may be due to “security enhancements.”
“If you are having this difficulty, you may want to explore alternative means of money movement, such as Zelle, or work directly with the third-party applications to explore other alternatives,” the message from customer service said, according to a screenshot Hargreaves provided to WESA.
Zelle is a money transfer app similar to Venmo that is owned in part by PNC Bank. In an emailed statement, a PNC spokesperson wrote that the bank is not trying to get customers to use Zelle in place of other services.
Hargreaves was frustrated by the sudden difficulty; he said he’d spent months getting accustomed to using Harvest and understanding its features.
"To abandon [it] out of the blue would be difficult,” he said.
It would also cost him more money as a business owner, Hargreaves said. He said he incurs a higher service fee when his customers pay with a credit or debit card instead of bank-to-bank transactions. The difference can be hundreds of dollars per transaction.
“Business today happens in the digital realm, and it’s important that the tools we use are able to talk to each other,” Hargreaves said. “When they stop talking to each other, problems can arise.”
Hargreaves isn't alone in having an issue re-connecting a PNC bank account directly to third-party apps. Alyssa Bush of Lincoln, Neb. said bank transfers out of her Venmo account stopped working suddenly in mid-October.
"I called PNC and they said they couldn't really help me," Bush said. "I contacted Venmo and they said it's all on PNC."
Venmo's parent company PayPal declined to comment for this story.
PNC’s statement also said that the company does support Venmo transactions via bank account. However, customers who have lost access must manually re-link their accounts to Venmo if they wish to keep using it.
“Our changes were made to enhance security across PNC online banking and they were not specific to any individual users.”
Neither Hargreaves nor Bush received information about how to reconnect from PNC customer service. Bush was eventually able to reconnect her PNC account to Venmo, but she said it was advice from Venmo’s customer service, not PNC’s, that helped her reconnect.
Chad Thornburg of Perry, Mich. closed his PNC bank account last month because of third-party connectivity issues. He uses the platform Plaid to connect to online services including Mint and Privacy. Plaid is an intermediary that allows people to connect their bank account to other services.
Thornburg said he contacted PNC customer service three times; he said they eventually responded saying that they were working on a fix to re-link PNC accounts with Plaid, though no details or timeline were shared.
"I work in I.T. so I know that when issues are typically caused by technical reasons, the issue is usually resolved quickly," Thornburg said. "This seemed like an intentional decision, not some bug or technical issue."
Thornburg said he closed his PNC account and now banks with the online-only bank Axos.
John Pitts, Plaid's policy lead, said the company became aware of issues with PNC at the end of the summer. He said Plaid is capable of working with PNC's security enhancements, but that PNC has not restored the connection between the two.
"Our technology works with PNC's security enhancements, it works with the security enhancements of banks all over the country," Pitts said. "The priority for us is making sure that consumers have choices in the apps they get to use to improve their financial lives."
Both PNC Bank and Plaid are members of the FinancialDataExchange, a financial information sharing group that sets standards for the financial technology industry. Pitts said one of the group's founding principles is that security should empower consumer control and access, not block it. He said the situation with PNC and third party apps does not sound like a great consumer experience.
"It sounds like friction," Pitts said. "It sounds like consumers being limited in their choices and having to do a lot of extra effort to get the services they want."