Mysterious ICBC banking glitch sparks panic, frustration among customers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 10:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 10:58am

Technical disruptions at China’s largest state-owned lender caused temporary panic among customers at the weekend, with some expressing fears of a hacking or deliberately engineered credit squeeze.

Various banking services at ICBC - including internet, mobile and phone banking as well as automated teller machine services - were “paralysed” on Sunday morning for nearly one hour.

Unable to withdraw cash from ATMs or get through to the customer help hotline, some customers believed the outage was longer, but state broadcaster CCTV reported it was 45 minutes.

Cities said to be affected by the problems included Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan, Chengdu and Xiamen, the Shanghai Daily newspaper reported.

The bank issued a statement via Sina Weibo on Sunday, reassuring customers that electronic channels were undergoing “system upgrades” since 10.38am and that certain services would be affected. The bank said it had restored all systems by 11.23am.

The glitch at the bank – one of China’s “big four” state lenders and largest in the world in terms of profit and market value – sparked concerns of a national credit crunch as it came just days after interbank lending rates had hit new record highs.

Others fanned worries that China’s financial system had been compromised by cyberattacks or hacking. The outage came just weeks after fugitive intelligence-leaker Edward Snowden told the South China Morning Post that the US National Security Agency had been hacking mainland Chinese and Hong Kong networks for years.

Online rumours circulating among financial insiders on forums such as Zhihu, China’s version of Quora, suggested that it was a deliberate show of force by the bank in response to Premier Li Keqiang’s bid to encourage private capital via “non-government affiliated banks” and a general overhaul of the financial system.

Others said the bank might have been testing a “disaster recovery mechanism” to see how the bank would cope with a large-scale disaster such as the Japanese earthquake of 2011.

On Weibo, netizens slammed the bank for its bungled handling of the situation. “This is totally illogical. Why didn’t they upgrade their system at midnight and why didn’t they inform us beforehand?” one user said.

“Doing a system upgrade during the day will not only cause customer’s inconvenience, it may also cause economic losses,” another said.