Last November, National Australia Bank (NAB) suffered a massive IT meltdown that kept customers from accessing their accounts and which took it months to fully straighten out. Then in January of this year - and while still suffering lingering customer account issues from the November fiasco - NAB experienced another IT glitch that took out NAB's online and telephone banking systems for a day.
During the January glitch, a NAB spokesperson said that, "It's unfortunate but these things happen from time to time."
Well, apparently it was time for yet another one of those "unfortunate things" to happen to NAB's IT department.
News reports out of Australia like this one at The Australian state that an IT system problem reminiscent of NAB's November crash hit the bank again today.
According to the paper, the IT problems affected NAB's Thursday's overnight processing of employer payrolls and some other financial transactions. The glitch not only impacted NAB's customers, but also the customers of banks that use NAB's processing services. These banks, the paper said, included "Macquarie Bank, HSBC, Citibank, Bank of Scotland and UBS." Some customers of Westpac, ANZ Bank and Commonwealth Bank were also reported to be impacted.
Overall, millions of people across Australia were likely affected by today's IT problems, The Australian article said.
NAB put out the perfunctory "sorry for the inconvenience" statement and promises in this Friday night (Australian time) press release that banking should be back to normal by tomorrow. NAB customers may be a bit skeptical of the bank's promise, however, since they heard the same refrain last November which turned out to be more than a wee bit optimistic.
And in other Australian-bank related news, you may have remembered that in early March, a "routine database maintenance" problem caused Commonwealth Bank's ATMs to spit out what the social medial rumor mill called "free money" for a good part of a day. Of course, it wasn't free. The bank decided that rather than shut down its ATM network because of the computer glitch, it would instead place its ATMs into "standby mode" which would allow the ATMs to still operate; however, customers would not be able to check their account balances.
In addition, standby mode would also allow customers to withdraw from the bank's ATMs more money than the customers actually had in their accounts.
Commonwealth Bank executives apparently figured that some small number of customers would accidentally overdraw their accounts, but they were seemingly shocked when large numbers of people decided that they would do so on purpose.
The bank sternly warned at the time that it would go after anyone who overdrew their bank accounts if they did not voluntarily and quickly pay the excess monies back.
Well, true to its word, about 10 days or so ago Commonwealth Bank sent "threatening letters" to those who failed to repay their ATM overdrafts. In addition, the bank decided that other ATM offenders should have their bank accounts frozen or closed altogether, while for over 100 of its account holders, the bank decided to refer them to the Australian police for possible prosecution. This approach in turn has caused a row to erupt in Australia over what ABCNews calls Commonwealth Bank's "heavy-handed tactics."
So far, Commonwealth Bank is saying it will not waiver from its stance of getting all of its money back. It probably will get most of it back in the end, but not without suffering yet another self-inflicted public relations black-eye.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.