NatWest's uptime debacle: Time for corporate dashboards for customers

NatWest, Ulster Bank and parent company RBS botched its disclosure and response to a six-day IT outage that damaged its standing with customers.

NatWest, Ulster Bank and parent company RBS in the United Kingdom are killing their customers with a whopper of technology failures. The issue is putting uptime disclosures and customer remuneration front and center.

Due to a bug, NatWest and its siblings have botched orders, direct deposits and blocked access into accounts. Apparently, the bank was hit with a batch processing issue. The bottom line: NatWest had a six day outage and failed to deliver regular emails to customers.

More via ZDNet UK: Natwest, RBS customers hit by balance glitchNatWest branches open early as balance bug persists |  NatWest failure: Cloud providers are open about outages, why not banksNatWest 'cautiously optimistic' over balance bug clear-upRBS faces probe, compensation claims over balance glitch

The problem with the NatWest debacle is disclosure.

ZDNet UK's Jack Clark argued that NatWest and any other company should provide uptime dashboards much like Amazon Web Services and Salesforce.com have adopted.

Clark said:

The banks' attitudes to openness about outages compares poorly with the example set by cloud-computing providers — a sector that traffics in items (IT services) that are as critical to the running of a business as RBS/NatWest's payment systems are to their customers.

Clouds, such as Amazon's Amazon Web Service or Microsoft's Windows Azure, have status pages that give blow-by-blow technical details of an outage as it happens. They publish precise technical information and give time estimates for when a fix will be rolled out, how long the fix will take to percolate through the system, and when customers can expect to be able to use the service again.

The NatWest approach? Post brief updates on its home page. Inform as little as possible and keep the systems status away from the general public. If you can get to NatWest's FAQ you'll find few technical details. Stephen Hester, RBS Group Chief Executive, said in a message posted on NatWest's home page.

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.

Right now my top priority, and the priority of the entire RBS Group, is to fix these problems and put things right for our customers.

This is taking time, but I want to reassure people that we are working around the clock to resolve these problems as quickly as we are able.

I also want to be clear that where our customers are facing hardship or difficulty we can and will help them. Our staff have already helped thousands of customers to access cash and we will continue to provide this service on a 24 hour basis while we work to resolve the problems.

I also want to reassure customers that no one will be left permanently out of pocket as a result of this, and again, they should contact us directly about this.

Apologies are nice, but more transparency is better. What exactly will the banking group do to improve? That question is huge given that NatWest also had a glitch in November.

Clark sums it up nicely:

Disclosure is a lot like walking a tightrope: companies need to balance their duty to the public with their own security protocols. The banks' reaction to a crisis is a far cry from that of their cloud contemporaries.

In other words, NatWest had an opportunity to save a bad situation and at least appear more open with its customers. The bank blew it.

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