BRANCHES of Royal Bank of Scotland will open on a Sunday for the first time this weekend as RBS Group struggles to deal with the aftermath of technical problems that have affected up to 12 million customers.
The taxpayer-owned group took the unprecedented step of extending the hours of more than 1,000 RBS and NatWest branches that normally open on a Saturday to 6pm, and opening them again tomorrow morning, as it faces an angry backlash from people unable to access accounts, withdraw wages or pay bills and mortgage payments.
Some customers said their home purchases or holiday plans had been plunged into chaos by the glitches, while others vowed to switch banking provider. Fears have been raised that thousands could be hit with penalty charges if their regular bill payments, such as for their mortgage, are affected. Consumer groups called on the banking behemoth to provide “appropriate compensation” to those customers who suffer as a consequence of the “failure”.
But RBS has promised no-one will be out of pocket and says anybody who incurs such a penalty as a result of the problems should contact their branch.
The difficulties, which have hit NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank users, are entering their fifth day. RBS said the backlog had been caused by a “system outage” on Tuesday, and that it was “working around the clock” to resolve it.
It appears the difficulties have hit hardest at NatWest, which has more than 7.5m personal banking customers. RBS Group said it could not tell how many had been affected as it was not possible to know when they were expecting payments into their accounts.
A group spokeswoman said it was “too early to say” how many RBS or NatWest customers in Scotland had been affected, but added: “The RBS problems seem to have been solved. The backlog being dealt with now has to do with NatWest customers predominantly.”
However, the problem is not confined to RBS account holders. Some non-customers are suffering as their employers use the group, and have not received their salary payments. Customers of RBS Group’s banking transaction services include the Government Banking Service, which looks after the balances of hundreds of public sector organisations, from government departments through to executive agencies.
RBS Group, which has 317 RBS and six NatWest branches in Scotland, said 192 RBS branches would be open today, a number of which would stay open until 6pm. Across the UK, hundreds more branches will extend their hours tonight, as well as opening tomorrow between 9am and 12 noon.
Customers have reported a plethora of problems. Account balances have not been updated properly, meaning credit and debit payments are not showing up as quickly as they should, although RBS said the money was “in the system”.
People going into their branch yesterday could not necessarily see the most up-to-date information on their balances, although staff were said to be “geared up” to help.
Susan Allen, customer services director for RBS NatWest retail, said it was difficult to say exactly when all the problems would be resolved. She said they had been due to “an error in our system which we believe we have now fixed but we are clearing the backlog”.
The problem reportedly arose after staff tried to install a software update on RBS’s batch processing system – used to update payments overnight so they are credited in accounts the next day – but ended up corrupting it. The systems then had to cope with the demands of live payment updates along with a flurry of people logging on to check their accounts, a processing challenge that is believed to have led to the backlog.
Other than referring to the “system outage”, RBS has not disclosed the source of the difficulties, although some information technology experts believe the software is to blame.
Darren Reevell, of Anicetus Consulting, an IT consultancy, suggested the problem could have originated from a “poor code release combined with poor testing and poor recovery processes”, which appeared to have damaged the bank’s IT infrastructure.
RBS Group was unable to explain why NatWest appeared to have been worse hit than RBS, but other IT experts speculated online that it could be linked to the sale of RBS branches in England and Wales to Santander, a process due to be completed later this year, but which may already have seen processing procedures switched over.
Last November, RBS’s retail banking operation suffered a similar system failure after overnight batch processing difficulties, the result of “maintenance work which went wrong” according to the group. On that occasion, RBS fixed the problem in 15 hours.
Among those to hit out at RBS yesterday was Raul Poddy, 30, a first-time buyer who revealed he, his pregnant wife, and their one-year-old child came close to spending a night in an empty home because of the problems.
He said his family had been due to complete the purchase of their first home but, because solicitors could not check that funds had been transferred, the keys were not immediately released. They faced “throwing down a mattress” to spend the night in their empty, rented home in Durham until the problem was resolved, but were later allowed to move in.