Natwest Faces User Anger After Another IT Failure

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Natwest is short of excuses after a second major IT failure in under a year

British bank NatWest is once again facing the wrath of its customers after another high profile IT failure rocked the stated-owned entity.

On Wednesday night, NatWest customers suffered the second major disruption in just nince months, after they were unable to withdraw their own funds from cash machines. Payments from bank accounts were also refused, and online and telephone banking was also hit.

NatWest Disapointment

NatWest, which is owned by RBS, said it was disapointed at the disruption.

“We are disappointed that our customers have faced disruption to banking services for a period on Wednesday evening, and apologise for that,” said the bank in a very brief statement. “All services are now running as normal again.”

It said that if any customers are having continued difficulties, they should contact the bank on 0845 7242424 (for RBS customers) or 0845 7888 444 (for NatWest customers).

The failure which reportedly spread into the early hours of Thursday 7 March, is once again being blamed on an ‘IT failure.’

And some customers are still reportedly experimenting problems, and took to Twitter to vent their frustration at NatWest.


At 9am on Thursday Daniel Adkins tweeted: “Still can’t access my online banking. #Natwest statement says everything was fixed at 1am.”

Another NatWest customer known as stigbeater, tweeted: “When will online banking be back on? Try to login = ssl connection error!”

Natwest TouchPay 1Not Unexpected

In June 2012 NatWest and RBS customers were hit by a systems glitch that caused widespread disruption and problems, some of which lasted for weeks.

That failure was blamed on a botched software upgrade.

The news of the latest NatWest service disruption has come as no surprise to some, amid warnings that this second failure may be the ‘straw that breaks’ customer patience with the bank.

Indeed, according to Paul Maher, MD at Positive Marketing, the failure was an accident waiting to happen.

“Last time a smiliar IT error cost over £170m to fix and payments to customers,” he said. He pointed to a warning last month from software analysis specialist CAST, which focuses on the reliability of large, complex IT systems.

It predicted to the BBC ‘more software glitches in 2013’ for banks.

Massive Complexity

The CAST strategy chief Lev Lesokhin,was quoted as saying that the core of the problem is that the business software used by the institutions has become horrifically complex.

He told the BBC that developers are good at building new functions, but bad at ensuring nothing goes wrong when the new software is added to the existing mix.

“Modern computer systems are so complicated you would need to perform more tests than there are stars in the sky to be 100 percent sure there were no problems in the system,” he was quoted as saying.

“Business software is becoming increasingly complex, composed of sub-systems written in different programming languages, on different machines by disparate teams. This means no single person, or even group of people, can ever fully understand the structure under the key business transactions in an enterprise. Testing alone is no longer a viable option to ensure dependable systems,” he reportedly said.

NatWest has yet to officially reveal what exactly caused the latest failure, but the worry is that new government laws to make it easier to move banks, could trigger a mass exodus of disgruntled customers from the bank.

“This means the quality of IT is directly linked to the profitability, perhaps even the survival of high street banks, just as it has recently been for UK retailers,” said Postive Marketing’s Maher.

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