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In wake of latest meltdown, RBS boss admits decades of IT neglect

03 December 2013  |  8774 views  |  8 Royal Bank of Scotland

RBS chief Ross McEwan has admitted that the bank has failed to invest properly in its IT system for decades after customers were left unable to access their money or pay for goods on Cyber Monday.

The outage affected RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank customers for around three hours on Monday evening, leaving them unable to withdraw money from ATMs, pay at the point-of-sale or access online and mobile services.

The problem hit on 'Cyber Monday', traditionally the most popular online shopping day of the year and at a time - early evening - when ATMs and shops are at their busiest.

The bank's CEO Ross McEwan has blamed a lack of IT investment over the years, saying: "For decades, RBS failed to invest properly in its systems. We need to put our customers' needs at the centre of all we do. It will take time, but we are investing heavily in building IT systems our customers can rely on."

Susan Allen, director, customer relations, RBS, told the BBC that the glitch was "unacceptable", promising that all customers will be reimbursed for any losses. Allen says that the cause of the meltdown is not yet known but a "detailed analytics" is underway, adding that the bank is "investing heavily in our systems" spending "about £2 million per annum in making sure our systems are improved".

Furious customers left stranded at cash machines and check-outs took to Twitter to vent their anger at the bank while some customers were still reporting problems in accessing online and mobile banking this morning, despite RBS's claims that services were back up and running.


Meanwhile, the bank is asking customers who have been left out of pocket to visit branches or call its contact centres to get their money back.

RBS - majority-owned by the taxpayer - has experienced several IT meltdowns over the last two years. Last summer customers were locked out of their accounts for several days, costing the bank more than £100 million in compensation and CEO Stephen Hester his bonus.

Since 2008 the bank has announced over 30,000 job losses in the UK and embarked on extensive restructuring, including offshoring of IT functions. Union bosses at Unite have asked the bank to demonstrate these latest problems are not caused by staff shortages or a lack of necessary investment in the infrastructure of the bank.

Dominic Hook, Unite national officer says: "IT problems will do nothing to reassure customers that RBS' commitment to quality customer service is backed up by proper investment in staff and systems. Unite has grave concerns that staffing challenges are exacerbating the problems facing the bank, challenges that could be further amplified when the CEO announces the outcomes of his Strategic Review in February."

Only last week RBS's managing director of digital banking, Chris Popple boasted that the bank has taken a proactive approach to dealing with disgruntled customers on social media but employees have been overwhelmed in the last few hours, although at least some people have seen the funny side:

Comments: (8)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member | 03 December, 2013, 10:25

I think it is unlikely that the spokesperson said that they were spending £2m  per year improving their IT systems as that is a drop in the ocean for a bank the size of RBS. If it is correct then no wonder that their systems aren't getting any better!

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Brendan Doyle
Brendan Doyle - CMS - Manchester | 03 December, 2013, 10:47

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

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A Finextra member
A Finextra member | 03 December, 2013, 11:17

Nice argument - shame most people get cash "electronically" from ATM's - which still need to be authorised.

Your "counter" argument will be the use of tellers which might be valid if their Bank hasn't decided on a strategy to reduce teller staff or even in opening hours.

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Matt White
Matt White - Finextra - Toronto | 03 December, 2013, 12:15

@Anon

I've just listened back to the Radio 4 Today interview. She does say £2m a year. From about 1 hour 10 minutes in here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03jz82b 

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A Finextra member
A Finextra member | 03 December, 2013, 13:02 £2m barely covers mandates and legal/regulatory compliance - their customers are looking for innovation and improvements. Bigger strategic investment budget required!
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Andrew Chilcott
Andrew Chilcott - stpsolutions - London | 04 December, 2013, 09:33

This is not a cash versus electronic payment argument as most cash is obtained electronically, it is a problem of having a single point of failure - a card. If you had more than one card in your wallet, you would be inconvenienced but not incapable of paying. So, if the new electronic wallets are trying to get us to put all our card details in a single place they are introducing a potential single point of failure. I will always retain multiple methods of payment, whether it be cash or card.

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A Finextra member
A Finextra member | 04 December, 2013, 17:01

in short - always have a backup!

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Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune | 05 December, 2013, 08:26

The GBP 2M figure should attract a fine - er, award - as the most ridiculous budget line item of the year. Anyway, should RBS need a hug or otherwise deflect the blame for underinvesting in IT, it needn't look any further: 

6 Reasons Why Banks Can't Transform Legacy Applications

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