News Comment

Sunday 21 September 2014

Banks are still grappling with the switch to electronic payments

Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30

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Yesterday's technical difficulties with Bank Of Ireland's IT systems, which left thousands of people waiting for their wages to appear in their bank accounts, were relatively minor
Yesterday's technical difficulties with Bank Of Ireland's IT systems, which left thousands of people waiting for their wages to appear in their bank accounts, were relatively minor

It is becoming a common irritant: will our wages actually be paid into our account on time? And if not, what's the latest 'glitch' excuse invariably being trotted out by one of the banks?

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Yesterday's technical difficulties with Bank Of Ireland's IT systems, which left thousands of people waiting for their wages to appear in their bank accounts, were relatively minor. No money was lost and the inconvenience lasted just a couple of hours. But banks are increasingly falling prey to IT glitches of all sorts: this is the second time in a month that this has happened to Bank Of Ireland.

Why are banks' systems breaking down so much more frequently?

Generally, banks won't spell out details when problems occur: one Bank Of Ireland incident in December was chalked up to a misplaced "file".

But banks are still grappling with a gradual switchover to fully electronic payment schedules as the norm. That means accommodating payment profiles and sources that are changing faster than they're comfortable with.

Sometimes, like when a slight delay in payment occurs, it's no more than irritant. At other times, it's worrying, such as being debited twice for an ATM transaction.

But there are times when it becomes serious. Ulster Bank, in particular, caused real difficulty two years ago when a glitch turned into an IT meltdown, leaving thousands without access to their money for weeks. Even after its €200m reparation bill, Ulster Bank is still paying a reputational price for the shambles it was responsible for.

The irony is that banks are very conservative and slow-moving when it comes to technology. For example, most were caught using the security-vulnerable Windows XP operating system earlier this year when Microsoft said it would no longer provide security assistance for the technology.

Bank Of Ireland has apologised for yesterday's glitch. But it, like all banks, should probably keep a boilerplate apology warmed up for the next time.

Irish Independent

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