Last week the boss of RBS (what used to be Royal Bank of Scotland) apologised to his UK customers. He admitted the bank "has to do better" after a day of computer meltdown which meant customers could not access their cash.
December 2 was a peak pre-Christmas shopping day in Britain and an estimated 750,000 RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank customers could not use their credit and debit cards. It is traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year, known as “Cyber Monday”, when retailers launch discounts to boost Christmas sales.
Loaded trolleys abandoned
Unable to access their cash by ATM or use their cards online or in stores, many customers just ditched their shopping trolleys because they had no way to pay. Many frustrated customers still had problems on Tuesday, and some found their money had vanished from their accounts. RBS said that it would compensate and reimburse fees incurred because of the computer failure.
It was the second time RBS computers had crashed: In 2012 a major IT failure locked customers out of their accounts for several days.
"Last night's systems failure was unacceptable. Yesterday was a busy shopping day and far too many of our customers were let down, unable to make purchases and withdraw cash," said RBS chief executive Ross McEwan. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience we caused to our customers. We know we have to do better.”
Susan Allen, RBS director of customer relations, told the BBC "We've really caused problems. It is completely unacceptable that customers couldn't access their own money."
After the banking bail out, RBS is now 80 per cent owned by the British government. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said RBS was "right to apologise" and compensate its customers.
"Ultimately, it is an operational matter for RBS to sort out as quickly as possible to make sure their customers are inconvenienced as little as possible," he said.
Apology to HSBC - they did say sorry
This year, I don’t need to remind you, we have endured two major inconveniences thanks to the world’s local bank. First they “re-set” everyone’s overseas withdrawal limits to zero. If you were lucky enough to know about this, you could “re-set” your account, so you could get cash abroad. This coincided with someone, still nameless, deciding to ditch the global Plus and Cirrus clearing systems for ATM cards, in favour of the China-run UnionPay system. But in reality they only work reliably in Hong Kong and China. Many travelling customers had no option but to withdraw cash via their credit cards and then chase the bank to reimburse the charges incurred. Finally, after customers were tearing their hair out, HSBC reinstated a new card for the Plus system. But it’s still murky as to who gets one – some customers get sent them automatically, others, like me, were invited to apply, others have heard nothing.
I wrote earlier today that I wondered if HSBC would apologise. Well, my mistake, because it seems they already did, in Lai See, back in the summer. Apologies from me, I missed it. But good to see they are reading the blog.
What conclusions can we draw from the sorry HSBC muddle, and last week’s UK shopping chaos caused by the RBS computer glitch?
Pay attention to the words of Richard Lloyd, executive director of UK consumer group, in which he described the RBS computer problems as "shambles". "There is a problem across the banking industry as to whether IT systems are fit for purpose," he told the BBC. I think we should all heed those words. The moral of the story is that if you need reliable access to your money, carry cash.