Ulster Bank technical issues persist
UPDATED: As customers scramble for emergency access, few details are forthcoming
Tech4Biz | 22 Jun 2012 :
Ulster bank continues to suffer "a major technical issue" which has prevented many customers from either receiving or accessing payments to their bank accounts. In some cases, wages and social welfare payments have not reached bank accounts and in others, customers have been unable to access accounts via online systems or through ATMs.
The bank has so far failed to respond to requests for comment or further detail and a statement on its web site has been the main updated source of information.
The issue being experienced by Ulster Bank appears to be purely internal. Software has been indicated, but there is little official confirmation. Speculation that this may have been a malicious attack does not appear to be borne out.
If this had been a malicious ttack originating from the Internet, then the group would more than likely have cut off all web traffic. The RBS in the UK, which is the parent group of Ulster Bank Group here, had been able to direct customers to the smart phone app to get a PIN that would allow them access to up to £100 in emergency cash. The fact that ATMs were also affected means that this would be inconsistent with a pure web attack on the bank group's systems.
This points back toward a pure systems failure. As with the Blackberry system outage last year and the recent experiences at Amazon, infrastructure issues have been able to bring down major services of late and this may be along the same lines.
A pure server or storage failure that revealed a related weak link in the availability chain may have conspired to produce the current result.
Indeed, Twitter also had an outage yesterday which is being attributed to a software update.
While the full details of the cause of the failure may never be known, it seems highly unlikely to have been an external malicious attack.
The web site statement said that the cause of the problem is "a major technical issue" and the bank said that 80 branches in towns and cities around the country will remain open late on Friday 22 June to facilitate customer access.
"Ulster Bank can confirm that we continue to experience a major technical issue which is resulting in a delay in processing certain payments and we apologise unreservedly for this," said the web site statement, but no further detail has been provided as to the nature or the extent of the issues.
However, in the UK, Natwest and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), part of the same group as Ulster bank, are experiencing similar issues.
RBS said yesterday that the situation was "an unacceptable inconvenience for our customers for which we apologise."
However, RBS and Natwest are advising customers to use their smart phone applications to generate a secure temporary PIN number for use in its cash machines. The application generates a secure cash code that allows users to withdraw from £10 to £100 cash and is valid for three hours and can be used at any RBS, NatWest or Tesco cash machine. The code can be used by the person downloading it or texted to someone else.
At time of writing, it could not be established whether a similar emergency facility was available to Irish customers.
UPDATE: Speaking to ComputerScope, Úna Dillon, head Card Services, Irish Payment Services Organisation, said that Ulster Bank issues are not with the underlying bank clearing systems.
Dillon confirmed that each bank runs its own clearing systems which adhere to certain standards to permit interoperability between them. This is governed by the Irish Retail Electronic Clearing Company (IRECC), a company of IPSO, and the various banks are members of this group. "IRECC is responsible for the development and imposition of the clearing rules and for the administration of the direct debit scheme. It is also responsible for the daily settlement with the Central Bank," says a description on IPSO.ie.
"The particular issue with Ulster Bank is not a settlement and clearing issue, it is a technical issue on their payments side. There hasn't been a problem with the clearing and settlements process as such, it is a technical glitch purely on their internal payments side."
However, Dillon was unable to shed any further light on the specific nature Ulster Bank's issue.
Ulster Bank has now said that the backlog now stands at two days for payment processing.
ComputerScope, was able to put a question to Ulster bank as to whether Irish customers can access emergency cash through their smartphones, as customers have been able to do in the UK.
"No, that functionality is not available," said Teri Kelly, media manager, IoI, Ulster Bank Group, via e-mail. "If customers are trying to access a salary or benefit payment and cannot access funds via an ATM, they can visit a branch. To help with this, 80 of our branches will be open until the extended time of 7pm today and 60 Saturday opening branches will open as usual this weekend. If visiting a branch, customers should bring their ID and payments details."