Bank systems glitch leaves thousands unable to access funds, but bank doesn’t explain what happened

I am always shocked at the bland responses I get from banks after they suffer an outage.

When there is an outage the most I get from the press offices at the big banks is something like: “We are aware that some of our customers are unable to access mobile and online banking services. We are currently fixing the problem and will update you….”

Then, unless it is an outage on the scale of the infamous RBS crash in the summer of 2012 and customers could not access funds for a week or more, a message is sent reassuring that all systems are back up and running. Twitter is often the medium used by customers to highlight problems and for the banks to keep the customers informed.

The bank statement when everything is fixed reads: “We apologise that some of our customers were unable to use out online banking service and mobile banking app some of the time for a short period last Friday. The services are now fully up and running….”

Then radio silence. As an IT journalist I have the privilege of being able to call the press office of the banks and ask them what happened. Unfortunately they never say what happened. It sometimes seems that they don’t actually know.

It would be good if they gave a little detail about what happened so at least we could explain to customers whether this is serious or not.

So it was great to read last week that challenger bank Monzo did just that a week after a problem. The bank gave a detailed explanation of why services were unavailable during a 30 minute period.

“Hi everyone. I’m a backend engineer at Monzo and I’m here to provide an overview of what happened last week when we experienced an outage. Last week, we experienced problems that affected both the prepaid and current account for around 30 minutes. Similar to the last major incident we experienced, I’d like to provide an overview on the causes of this outage, the timeline, and the steps we’ve taken to prevent similar events from happening again.” Then there is a detailed explanation which you can read here.

As you can see the explanation is very detailed and explains what is being done to prevent it happening again, see the interesting section headed Mitigation and Prevention. This is reassuring to customers if they commit their money to a digital only bank. See what they did there? Turn a short term problem into a long term strength.

Outages no matter how small add up and can do harm to a banks reputation due to the speed at which new of a problem spreads across social media. Even people that weren’t trying to use a banking app or online banking service will join in with the complaining.

With banks reducing the number of branches and support staff, mobile apps are becoming more important for customer services. Figures from the European Banking Federation (EBF), which include the UK, revealed more than 9,000 bank branches were closed in 2016, and more than 50,000 people working at those banks lost their jobs. So banks have to minimise outages as in the future downtime might be a reason for a consumer to switch banks. There are many on offer and it is easier than ever to change current account provider.

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