Mind Like Water

PNC Bank Virtual Wallet review: Not a fan.

I know my personal finance posts don't tend to fare as well as my attention / procrastination posts, but I wanted to write about my recent experiences with PNC Bank's Virtual Wallet.

In a nutshell, I feel like they hired somebody who really understood how young people use banking these days, and then they paired that person with the stodgyest old banker that they could find. What resulted is a somewhat disappointing hybrid that isn't your standard banking and isn't the latest and greatest. (Skip to my summary)

Opening the account
I opened the account over chat, which was awesome. What wasn't so awesome was that the chat rep neglected to tell me that I needed to sign a signature card before I could start using the account. I got a welcome packet in the mail, which said that I'd have checks and deposit slips arriving shortly. It also included my debit card, which I was later told I shouldn't get until I had
signed a signature card.

Account holds
Since I'd received my debit card, and checks were supposedly on the way, I decided to deposit a paycheck. I have a balance on one of my credit cards that's currently accruing interest daily, so I wanted to make a payment on my card as soon as possible. The website said funds from my check would be available on Monday, so I scheduled the payment on Tuesday.

When Monday came, I stopped by a branch to sign a signature card. Contrary to what a rep had told me on the phone, the branch didn't have any signature cards so the manager had to write up one herself while I sat and waited. (on a positive note, everyone seemed really nice). When I got home, my check was still pending but my payment was no longer able to be modified. By Tuesday I started to get worried because the check still hadn't posted. I called in, and was told that there was a hold on my "Spend" Checking because I hadn't signed a signature card, and this was why my check wasn't posting. I was worried because the pending payment would cause me an overdraft. I called in, and the rep told me I definitely wouldn't get an overdraft because they knew the funds were there.

I eventually got the hold on my "Spend" Checking removed. The next day, I found out that there was a hold on the check still, and was told this was because they were "unable to verify" funds were available from the sending bank.

I asked what had caused this to happen, and they said it's most likely because the check was so big (it was about $1300). The rep asked me why I couldn't direct deposit (my boss would have to pay extra at any bank in Traverse City in order to be able to send Direct Deposit. It's sort of ridiculous considering how much simpler and cheaper DD is than a check, and yet sending a check is free).

After a week, the hold on the check was removed. I had been charged two fees, one for $25 and one for $36. They were kind enough to refund the fees. Since then, I've probably gotten six or seven letters in the mail about the check hold and overdrafts. I appreciate the follow up, but an email would have saved
paper and been much quicker.

First experiences with Virtual Wallet
Ok, so Virtual Wallet is basically 3 accounts, one no-interest checking "Spend", one interest checking "Reserve" (I think .25%) and one savings "Growth" (1% interest). I really commend PNC for the interest rates. They're no ING Direct, but they certainly beat the crap out of the other big banks as far as interest rates go. The Spend and Reserve accounts are "sort of" merged in that their balances are reported together on some areas in the site, and viewing transactions shows transactions for both accounts by default. (This is a little wonky since you get a deposit and a withdrawal line for every transfer
between Spend and Reserve).

Also, the Reserve and Growth accounts act as overdraw buffers for Spend, which negates the need to have a buffer in my primary checking since an accidental charge won't cause me a fee as long as I have enough to cover it in Reserve+Growth.

I was really disappointed to find out that transfers between accounts take 1 business day. I'm used to transfers taking place instantly between accounts at the same bank, so this seems really old-fashioned. On a plus note, the account balances show the difference even though funds haven't been transferred. It's probably not a big deal as far as spending goes since the
Reserve and Growth will cover overdraws on the Spend account anyways, but I am missing out on some interest and transfers to other PNC bank account owners aren't quite as speedy as I'm used to.

Transfers outside of PNC (to/from)
I'm basically floating on a Grad Plus loan right now since I'm not officially working this semester, so I have a few months' worth of expenses I wanted to transfer from my ING Direct account to my growth account. Scheduling external transfers is kind of annoying, as the process is split between two pages (you specify accounts and payment type on one, and amount, payment date, category type, and description on another). Having a gigantic "Calculate Fee" button is a bit scary, and useless considering transfers don't cost anything. Maybe they're planning on charging in the future, and put the button there just to save time down the road?

The daily and monthly limits are also really annoying. You can't transfer more than $2,000 in a day (and this number includes any pending transfers, so a single transaction appears to count for multiple days. Really annoying when you're trying to move > $2,000 in order to use Virtual Wallet as your primary account. Had it not been from ING Direct I probably could have deposited a check, but then again I'd probably just go through the same hassle I had above, where they "can't verify" the funds.

One of the cool things about the Reserve account is the ability to label an amount of money with a purpose. There are two ways of doing this: a "Wish List" where you can set a goal and put funds towards that goal, and a "Reserve Items" list where you set aside funds for future expenses. I wish those were merged into one feature, which is just labeling a certain amount of money with a name. That's all I really need. I like that there's an unallocated balance.

I wish there was a way to create a new item on either list, and have it transfer the money from Spend. Currently, I have to go through the whole process of transferring manually, and then add an item.

I would also like the labeling ability on the Spend account. I think Growth has a wish list, but I haven't really used it yet.

The interface
Virtual Wallet has a decent blue/green/orange color scheme, with lots of rounded corners and flashy AJAX-ish content.

Unfortunately, they used Flash for everything, and the main screen takes terribly long to load every time I log in.

The organization leaves a little to be desired: the "Quick View" and "Account Detail" pages seem nearly the same, and I'm always confused as to which one I'm on. Both have a slider at the top, and clicking it on "Quick View" brings me to "Account Detail". Clicking it on "Account Detail" does nothing (not good).

Clicking "Spend/Reserve" at the top brings me to the Calendar (oddly). Clicking a day in the calendar shows me the day Calendar view. Clicking a transaction takes me to the "Search transactions" page (also known as "Account Activity"), with the dates set to that specific day. Account Activity is probably the screen most people are used to coming from other banks. I've mentioned before it oddly shows transactions for both Spend and Reserve by default. I'd prefer just showing Spend, but that's just me.

When adding items to the Reserve Items list, the screen jumps down when I'm typing in the name so that the field is out of sight. It's a bug, and is extremely disconcerting. I've also had the screen lock up on me when adding reserve items if there's not enough unallocated funds. An error message would do the trick.


I haven't gotten much into the Spending/Saving areas of Virtual Wallet. I was a little turned off from the "Spending Zone" screen (seems heavily influenced by Mint.com) because the fiasco with the held check resulted in several debits and credits for the same amount, throwing off my numbers.

I'm a little neurotic about my money, so I don't like numbers that aren't really correct. The "Savings Engine" might be cool for some people. You can set up recurring transfers to saving, automated transfers when you pay bills, and spur of the moment savings by "Punching the pig" (cool idea, but I was a little paranoid I'd punch it by accident so I turned it off. Again, neurotic about my money).

If you have trouble saving and want automated savings to do the work for you, this would be great. It's not very useful for me though, as I get paid irregularly and seem to have pretty good willpower when it comes to saving "manually".

PNC Points
I can't comment on PNC Points because their sign up form wouldn't let me sign up because some information I entered was different than what's on my account (though no indication what information was different). I tried to take care of it through chat, but they said I had to call to take care of it. I'm not a big phone person, so I've been procrastinating about that.


  • Chat seems available relatively often.
  • Decent interest rates
  • Reps have all been friendly
  • Labeling amounts of money (Wish List, Reserve Items) is awesome.
  • Visually appealing interface
  • Automated recurring/triggered savings

Cons / Suggested Improvements

  • Lots of paper letters sent. Add a paperless messaging option, so I can get instant emails instead of wasting paper.
  • Large checks (probably over $1000) are suspicious. If you have a lot of these, this might not be the bank for you.
  • Different reps say different things about Signature Cards, NSF fees, etc.
  • Click to chat button randomly appears on screen. Why can't I always trigger it manually? (if reps aren't available, say so!)
  • Within-PNC transfers take 1 business day. Make them instant.
  • External transfers take several days longer than at Bank of America or ING Direct. What's the holdup?
  • Having two checking accounts can be confusing. Merge Spend and Reserve accounts internally, and use reserve items to determine what funds are in "Reserve".
  • External transfer page is complex and boring. Simplify, make it fun! ING Direct does it well.
  • External transfers have daily and monthly limits. Such a pain.
  • Merge "Quick View", "Summary", and "Account Detail" pages.
  • Get rid of flash, and use progressive enhancement to add the flashy JavaScript UI over a basic HTML-based interface that is usable with javascript turned off.
  • Move up the navigation that is currently flash-based into secondary nav under "My Accounts". Currently the two links "Summary" and "Account Detail" are pretty much redundant when viewing the flash links.
  • Clickable items are inconsistent. If I can click something on one page, and it appears on another page, I should be able to click it as well. If it takes me to one thing on one page, it should take me to the same thing when I click it on another page.


Basically, I'm not a fan. The 3 account idea seemed cool at first, but for the most part it's just been confusing, and PNC seems to have so many antiquated banking practices it's hard to appreciate how unique the Virtual Wallet features are. I've already added this account as my tax refund direct deposit account, so I'll probably wait for that to arrive and then switch back to Bank of America.

Hopefully somebody finds this useful, whether you're thinking about opening an account or whether you work for PNC and need some ideas on how to improve.

Update: PNC will shortly be removing interest on the Growth account unless you have at least 5 debit card transactions a month. I'd rather use a credit card for the rewards and extra security, so basically that means if I were to keep Virtual Wallet, I'd not be earning any interest on my savings. I don't think I would have signed up in the first place, given those terms.