Serious questions that Ulster Bank must answer
Published 25/06/2012 | 05:00
The admission from RBS, parent bank of Ulster Bank, that the payments' backlog won't be cleared until the end of this week, means that many of the bank's customers will have suffered extreme inconvenience and hardship through no fault of their own for almost two complete working weeks.
Ever since things first started to go wrong with the RBS computer system last Tuesday night, RBS and Ulster Bank have been playing catch-up.
First, they attempted to minimise the scale of the problem with spokespersons speaking successively of a "technical issue" and then a "major technical issue".
Then on Friday, Ulster Bank chief operating officer Ellvena Graham assured us that the problem had been "fixed" and that the backlog of several million transactions would be cleared over the weekend. But they weren't.
Yesterday, Chris Sullivan, the head of RBS's corporate banking operations stated that the bank still wasn't sure when the backlog would be cleared, with spokespersons now warning that it could take until the end of this week.
While we have absolutely no doubt that Ms Graham and the Ulster Bank spokespersons said what they did in the utmost good faith, merely repeating what they had been told by their RBS superiors, a situation where one of the country's largest banks is unable to process payments or allow customers access to their accounts for almost a fortnight is bordering on the intolerable.
The fact that the computer fault seems to have occurred in the UK and is not the fault of Ulster Bank's staff in either the Republic or Northern Ireland is scant consolation to the more than 100,00 customers who have been left high and dry.
Even at this early stage, it is clear that RBS was caught completely off guard and that, when something did go badly wrong, it lacked the necessary back-up systems and contingency plans to deal with the crisis.
Not good enough. In an era when most of us conduct the vast bulk of our banking transactions electronically, a catastrophic systems' failure such as we have seen at Ulster Bank is simply not an option.
This affair must be thoroughly investigated by the regulatory authorities on both sides of the Irish Sea.
What went wrong, whose fault was it, how have they been punished and what steps have been taken to ensure that something like this never, ever happens again?
Bank customers, whose confidence in electronic banking has been battered by the RBS/Ulster disaster, are entitled to answers to these questions.
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