Early last week, I blogged about the lingering computer problems plaguing RBS Group banks. As you may recall, on the evening of 19 June, a software upgrade to the system used to process payments to and from the banks’ customer accounts became corrupted, causing havoc to millions of accounts for almost two weeks.
For customers at one of the banks, Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland (others in the group include NatWest and the namesake Royal Bank of Scotland), it looked like the situation was finally getting back to normal this week except for some (we don't know how many except that it's “significantly” more than the originally estimated 100 000 customers thought to be affected by the glitch), who were told yesterday not to expect normalcy to return until the week of 16 July. And that was the hopeful prediction, “barring," the bank said, "any residual reconciliation required.”
As one might expect, Ulster Bank customers, as well as government banking regulators and Northern Ireland politicians, are unhappy, with many complaining that the bank's customers are receiving second-class treatment in comparison to NatWest and RBS customers. Some Ulster customers claim that money has disappeared from their accounts, while others say that the bank has duplicated payment transactions. Ulster Bank officials have told customers who complain about missing money that the money is indeed in their accounts, but it is “invisible;” they have also admitted that some duplicate transactions have occurred, but they have also given contradictory information as to what these transactions are.
RBS Group CEO Stephen Hester and Ulster Bank officials have repeatedly said normalcy was just around the corner. Fortunately, the Irish Central Bank views the long-term outage as more than just an "inconvenience"—to use the euphemism that RBS Group press releases have repeatedly used—and is demanding customers be compensated for their trouble. That discussion will be interesting to watch play out.
Bank officials have said the reason Ulster Bank customers were so hard hit was that “Ulster Bank payments happen to follow in sequence after those of NatWest and RBS.” This still doesn’t fully explain why Ulster Bank, with the smallest customer base of the three and with the other two banks supposedly operating normally for nearly a week, is taking so long to get back upright. It may indicate that there are still other account reconciliation issues at the other two banks that are not making the news. RBS Group has remained tight-lipped on more than the general details of the original glitch and its actions in the wake of it.
By coincidence, National Australia Bank suffered an IT glitch that kept its customers accessing their accounts online yesterday for about an hour. I bet it reminded NAB customers of a similar banking meltdown there about 18 months ago that took months to finally resolve.
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.