Why do UK banks suffer more software failures than those in other countries?

The massive TSB banking outage recently is just one of many. It was the biggest for a while as you have to go back to 2012 for an outage of this magnitude when Royal Bank of Scotland’s CA-7 batch process scheduler froze locking customers out of accounts for weeks.

But outages happen all the time although they usually last hours. For example in the last couple of weeks customers of TSB, HSBC, Barclays, RBS and NatWest suffered problems connecting to digital services.

So I asked a contact of mine why UK banks have so many problems. I am familiar with the problems caused by legacy banking systems and the speed at which banks are trying to introduce digital services, but I thought Lev Lesokhin senior vice president strategy & analytics at CAST, which tests software quality, might be able to shed some light on the bad reputation of UK banks in terms of software outages.

He said Cast research has consistently shown the UK scores the lowest on all factors used to measure code and software health. “The UK is behind the rest of Europe, the US and India in particular when it comes to the robustness, the transferability and the performance of the code.  We have observed that the UK’s score is low compared to other countries when it comes to the changeability of the code. This means it is more difficult to change prevalent legacy software and modernise it to meet current standard,” he said.

He described some UK practices as “code-slinging cowboy DevOps” which he claims disregards global industry standards. “This sheds some light as to why UK banks have such frequent IT glitches. However, it is only part of the explanation,” he added.

“The banking sector is particularly affected by glitches because of the amount of legacy systems. Banks have software piling on top of software, and the UK lacks the Software Intelligence to control their structural quality and the IT talent to fix them.”

He said outsourcing is partly to blame. “What differentiates the UK is that it has had the most active approach to outsourcing and offshoring software development. Every time you outsource, you lose some of your institutional understanding of how the software is architected and how it works. Now UK is in an insourcing trend, which will again erode that institutional knowledge.”

Strong words from Lev. But what do you think?

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