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RBS, NatWest Failure Blamed On Human Error

Max ‘Beast from the East’ Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope.

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RBS cancells Wimbledon jolly and may sue CA, while Mervyn King promises an inquiry into the banking disaster

US software corporation CA Technologies is working with RBS Group to fix technical issues that locked NatWest customers out of their accounts last week, and the Governor of Bank of England Sir Mervyn King has promised a “very detailed inquiry” into the causes of the crash,

The problem, which affected millions of NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank customers, is believed to have started with a mistake during a software update of the CA-7 batch processing software RBS uses. Customers at all three banks suffered because of the shared IT infrastructure, and the bank is reported to be considering suing CA.

The seriousness of the problem has led the company to take the almost unprecedented step of cancelling its corporate hospitality at the Wimbledon tennis tournament, and pulling the plug on a one day golf tournament at Gleneagles, deeming them “inappropriate”.

Bank chief Stephen Hester’s bonus, expected to be aruond £2.4 million, may also be in question, as the costs of this crisis are being estimated at £100 million.

The RBS bank job

Last Thursday, NatWest and RBS customers were hit by a system glitch that prevented them from making or receiving payments through their bank accounts. Account balances weren’t updated, and even online banking did not work. To fight the growing panic, NatWest decided to keep 1,000 branches open until 7pm, and released a statement which claimed this was a problem “strictly of a technical nature and will be fixed as soon as possible”.

By Monday, problems still remained, even though RBS claimed to have fixed the glitch on Friday. The bank confirmed that the cause of an IT failure was a payment software update.

Yesterday it emerged that failure took place in batch processing software from CA Technologies, and may have been due to human error. CA has been working with RBS to fix the problem.

“RBS is a valued CA Technologies customer, we are offering all assistance possible to help them resolve their technical issues which are highly unique to their environment. We do not comment on customer confidential issues,” said a statement from the company.

The Register speculates the problem was caused by an inexperienced IT operative who made a mistake. The bank applied a software update to the CA-7 batch processing software, but found a problem. As would be normal in such circumstances, they backed out, but apparently a junior member of staff made the mistake of erasing all scheduled payments. At least some RBS work using  CA-7 has been  outsourced to India, leading some to conclude this is where the error occurred.

“Once the current difficulties are over then we will need the FSA to go in and carry out a very detailed investigation to find out first of all what went wrong, but even more importantly, why it took so long to recover,” said Mervyn King yesterday, while speaking in front of  the Treasury Committee. He has pointed out that IT failures are inevitable, and it was back-up and recovery systems  that failed NatWest customers.

“Right now my top priority, and the priority of the entire RBS Group, is to fix these problems and put things right for our customers,” says a statement from Stephen Hester, chief executive of the RBS Group, on the NatWest home page.

“This is taking time, but I want to reassure people that we are working around the clock to resolve these problems as quickly as we are able.”

“I also want to be clear that where our customers are facing hardship or difficulty we can and will help them. Our staff have already helped thousands of customers to access cash and we will continue to provide this service on a 24 hour basis while we work to resolve the problems.”

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