25 Jun 2012

RBS ‘recovering’ after computer chaos

RBS boss Stephen Hester says his bank is on the path to recovery after last week’s computer glitch. But he pledges that senior executives, including himself, will be held accountable for the chaos.

Some customers have not been able to access their money or have had electronic transactions thwarted while trying to pay bills by direct debit or standing order.

The fiasco, which began six days ago, was caused by a software upgrade at an IT centre in Edinburgh. It has now been resolved, but RBS, which owns NatWest and Ulster Bank, is now dealing with a “significant” backlog of transactions which could cost it hundreds of millions of pounds in overtime and compensation payments, according to an analyst.

Gary Greenwood, from Shore Capital, said: “The extra cost of branch openings and fee waivers is likely to cost the company tens of millions of pounds, although compensation costs for customers could push the total cost into the low hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Some 1,200 NatWest and RBS branches will be open from 8am to 6pm for the rest of the week after opening on Sunday for the first time and late last week.


RBS, which is 82 per cent owned by the taxpayer after being bailed out by the government in 2008, has promised that customers will not be left out of pocket.

Our customers rely on us day in and day out to get things right, and on this occasion we have let them down. This should not have happened. Stephen Hester, RBS

Consumer champion Which? says NatWest customers who are affected should lodge a formal complaint as soon as possible, giving details of costs incurred and payments that have been missed.

NatWest has eight weeks to look into complaints, and if people are unhappy with the response they receive they can contact the financial ombudsman.

Which? says other banks should treat NatWest customers “positively and sympathetically”.

Some customers are unable to view up-to-date balances and direct debits for bills that should have been paid. In some cases, people’s wages are not showing up in their accounts. NatWest has more than 7.5 million personal banking customers, but it is unclear how many have been affected.

Carrie Brown does not bank with RBS, but her account with Thinkbanking uses RBS’s computer system and her benefit payments have not appeared. She told Channel 4 News she did not know how she was going to afford food for her children.

“We’ve got 15p left, that’s it, ” she said. “I spent three hours on the phone. Thinkbanking said we’ll give you £10, but we want it back as soon as you get money through, so we’ve used it to buy milk and bread for the kids.”

‘Goodbye NatWest’

People have been using social media to complain. One customer from Glasgow wrote on Twitter: “I have had my bank charges of £12.95 taken this morning but my salary payment which should have gone in today hasn’t appeared. Goodbye Nat West, from a customer of 25 years’ standing.”

Susan Allen, director of customer services at RBS, said she was cautiously optimistic that account balances would be largely “back to normal” at the start of the working week. She added: “The knock-on effects of this technical failure mean there will be bumps in the road.”

RBS has promised that any overdraft fees or charges on current accounts incurred by customers will be automatically waived and has said it will work directly with credit agencies to ensure no-one’s credit score is affected. It will also reimburse customers who had to pay to ring an 0845 helpline number for any cost incurred when doing so.

Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS, said: “I am very sorry for the difficulties people are experiencing. Our customers rely on us day in and day out to get things right, and on this occasion we have let them down. This should not have happened.”

The Financial Services Authority said in a statement: “Clearly this is an issue that has had a significant impact for large numbers of people and businesses.

“We will expect RBS-NatWest to provide us with a complete account of the issues once this is fully resolved and to take any necessary steps to ensure that the risks of these problems occurring again are addressed.”