The Unmemorable Memorable Word

Published on 10 November 2011 in , , , ,

I recently had a credit card change enforced on me. After having an Egg Card for several years, Egg’s owners decided to flog the business off to the highest bidder and sold their card business to Barclaycard. Which is why, a few weeks ago, a new card was sent with strict instructions to use it from the 7 November as my old one would be cancelled.

The Egg card was my main credit card and I used it a lot. It gave me 1% cashback off everything and as I had it set to pay the full bill automatically every month, it was the card that paid me to use it. I’d opted out of paper statements since day one and used their online facility a lot. It had nice things like getting an instant PIN reminder, displaying it on the website if you entered enough security details. But with the switch I’d have to get using Barclaycard’s service instead.

Funnily enough I already had another Barclaycard. It gives me 2% cashback at supermarkets and petrol stations. The petrol station ability is useless for someone without a car, but I use supermarkets. Some time ago I’d set up the online facility for it but as I had paper statements and only made about three purchases a month, I never used it much.

Until 7 November anyway. Suddenly I had to dredge out the login details from my brain.

Username? Err…

Passcode? Err, what?

Memorable word? No, lost me.

I took a punt on the Username and was right. The passcode help text told me I had to enter a six digit number and again I took a punt and was right. Memorable word? Errr… What on earth could it be?

Clearly a lot of Barclaycard users have trouble with the memorable word option which is why they chose to put a “Memorable word hint” on screen. Or at least I presume it was always on screen as for me, all it said was “Memorable word reminder not currently available”. Gee, thanks guys.

What on earth could I have put?

Some popup help text then told me my memorable word had to be between six and eight characters long. And it couldn’t be address or first born horse. Can’t be either of the first name of either of my parents as they each have five letter names, whilst my granddad is three (well technically he’s called Thomas but everyone calls him Tom.) Oh and Catherine’s ruled out as she’s too long (and would provide terrible security.)

Mum’s maiden name is four letters long so that’s out. I have no uncles, aunts or cousins. No nephews nor nieces. I have no dog, and my cat in the teenage years was called Berry so not that either. The street I live on was too long, as is the area I live in. I certainly didn’t use the name I gave to my iPod as that’s called Tuna. I like baking bread but that’s five letters again.

Beer is too short as is curry but they also fall foul of the rule that you can’t have the same letter twice in a row. My nickname is no use and Catherine doesn’t have one for me to use. It wasn’t my BBC computer login name as that had numbers, as did my Durham university user name. Oh and it couldn’t be my own name. Cos that’s not allowed.

Gee, thanks again Barclaycard. Your restrictions on what my memorable word can be, means I can’t use anything memorable.

Eventually I gave up and tried the “Forgotten your memorable word” option because, quite obviously, I had. This function failed about three times as it kept claiming I had my passcode wrong when I didn’t, before it eventually decided it could give me my memorable word hint.

“beep in, beep out”

For some reason I’d put “Osyter” as my memorable word. As in the Oystercard. As you do. I mean as logic goes, it’s clever. An Osytercard opens up ticket gates. Oysters open up. I needed something to allow me to open my credit card online system. I mean it’s blatant isn’t it? And it fits the character limit too!

In case you’re wondering my memorable word is no longer Osyter. As clearly it’s not memorable. But there’s a lesson here.

By placing so many restrictions on the length of their memorable word field, they’ve made the word that someone picks less memorable. Some people will just forget it and spend an hour struggling to remember it. But an unmemorable word increases the chance that someone will write it down. Perhaps on a Post-It note next to their computer. And you’ll be amazed at how many people already do that.

Even if you do manage to pick a word you remember, then the chances are you’ve picked a word that’s extremely obvious. I bet a simple brainstorming session between my friends could reveal at least three quarters of the possible “memorable” words I could have picked. I bet they’d never guess Oyster but then neither did I.

I’m sure everyone knows and understands why banks and credit card companies put so much emphasis on security. Banking fraud is no good for anyone. But there needs to be a compromise between protection and usability. And Barclaycard haven’t got it right.

So yep, after all that my memorable word is no longer Oyster. Even if you could correctly guess my username and passcode, putting in Oyster won’t give you access to my credit card statements. What it is I’m not telling. But that’s mainly as I’ve managed to forget it already…


  • Mike Fisher says:

    I am also a former Egg customer, and am similarly unimpresed by the “mybarclaycard” website.
    The default security seems to be incredibly insecure: a six figure passcode that defaults to your date of birth, and a “memorable word” that displays the hint for all to see.
    My first attempt at a memorable word was an obscure Czechoslovakian flute maker. (I happen to own an instrument made by them.) I thought this ticked all the boxes as difficult to guess, personal to me and (being a foreign word) not susceptible to dictionary attack. It was, of course, rejected as it contained the sequence of neighbouring keys: “ert”. I settled instead for the town where I grew up, which is much less secure.
    I’ve had a few other issues with myBarclaycard, too. So far, the site has refused to allow me to change my memorable word (I since thought of a really good one!), not changed my direct debit instruction, occasionally logged me out for no apparent reason, and displays only one of my two cards. I used the secure messaging system to ask them about the second card, but they haven’t got back to me despite promising to do so “within 24h”. Ho Hum.
    Like you, I stuck with Egg for a number of years because their online facility was so good. I don’t think I’ll be with Barclaycard for as long!

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    So tonight, after twenty minutes, I found out another reason why I’ve been having so much trouble with Barclaycard’s online system – and indeed why I didn’t get a memorable word hint.
    My username was wrong. I was typing in the wrong thing convinced it was right. Once I finally got in it took me five minutes to find out that there is nowhere in the entire service where you can actually see what your user name is. You can login using your credit card number if you’ve forgotten it, but if you have then you just have to create a new one.
    [bangs head on table]
    And, of course, when you do choose a new username, well it has to be 8-16 characters and contain letters AND numbers. Which is why I forgot my username in the first place.
    [breaks table with head banging]
    I’m now off to write my username down. Because that’s secure…