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Cash comes to the rescue again as Natwest cards fail

It’s called ‘Cyber Monday’, one of the busiest days shopping days of the year and cards failed. Across the country, parents were left unable to pay for their kids Christmas presents, customers were stranded at petrol stations, shoppers at supermarkets were left embarrassed.

Many retailers will have noticed an unanticipated shortfall in sales in the UK on ‘Cyber Monday’, this was due to the fact at approximately 6:45pm yesterday, Monday 2nd December 2013, RBS systems went down. The RBS Group, who also own Natwest & Ulster Bank and are responsible for 24m customers across the UK, announced “technical issues” which prevented many customers (it’s unclear yet how many) from having access to their funds. Phone lines quickly jammed and #Natwest was the top nationwide trend on Twitter, meaning that the bank was inundated by customers struggling for answers.

For internet users with no other means of electronic payment, they had no choice but to empty their virtual baskets. For consumers at high street stores & supermarkets, cash came to the rescue. Again.

Odd Balls

The heavyweights of the cards industry, Visa and MasterCard will tell you that cash should be replaced with electronic payments. For years, these giants have been investing money in anti-cash campaigns, however yesterday’s actions have strong echoes of the past. In July 2012 at the London Olympics, a cashless trial took place which failed on its first day, meaning visitors to the Olympic park could not purchase food, drinks and other amenities.

I hope that the odd balls who have been calling for the displacement of cash are RBS customers and saw for themselves what their brave new world of electronic-only payments means.

RBS Group have issued an apology this morning, saying they are “very sorry” and that “If customers have been left out of pocket as a result of these system problems, we will put this right”, which will be of no comfort to humiliated shoppers who could not pay for goods with a queue of 10 people waiting behind them yesterday.  RBS also experienced system failures in June 2012, where some customers were left unable to withdraw cash for up to 5 days while the bank tried to rectify the issue.

Cash is freedom and will hold an important place in payment means for a long time to come. It cannot be declined by a third party system and if you have it, you can spend it – which is a pretty essential feature of money.


Comments: (1)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 05 December, 2013, 10:13Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

"Putting right customers left out of pocket" - not sure if I even understand that statement - is all fine but what about businesses who failed to make the sale because customers' cards failed and they didn't carry cash? Does RBS have any plans to make up their lost revenues? Thankfully in India, cash is welcome online and even e-ticketing is offered via "cash on delivery" payment mode.

The Death Of Cash Is At Least 190 Years Away 

The biggest problem with electronic payments is their utter unpredictability amidst multiple points of failure: You go to an MNO to pay your mobile phone bill and their telephone line is dead; you go to a store to buy something, their POS machine is down; you go online, your mobile network coverage is poor, so you never receive the Mobile OTP required to complete the card payment. I could go on and on - notice that I haven't even covered the RBS-type of failure with backend systems - but you get my drift. Of late, I've refused to get frustrated with ePayments and have gone back to cash. Reminds me of the days over 25 years ago before I got my first credit card in the late '80s.