So how have they screwed the computer systems this time?

Up to 17.5 million RBS banking group customers were left without their money last night as the bank’s systems crashed.

Last time it was rolling out an upgrade without adequate testing beforehand. That, caused by using script kiddies instead of people who actually kinow what they\’re doing.

This time?

A basic, yet sadly unacknowledged, truth these days is that banks are an IT system. It should be their core competence. Yet when one looks at the way that they\’re organised, the experience of the senior management, they sure don\’t seem to organise themselves that way.

19 thoughts on “So how have they screwed the computer systems this time?”

  1. More “experienced & professional IT staff as employed by a major banking group near you”. Usually shortened to “assholes”.

  2. On the other hand, things here still to me seem to be somewhat better than in the Barbarian Colonies. Have you ever dealt with wire transfers to and from American banks? So far as I can tell, they’re still doing it by literally sending each other telegrams, generally through chains of several intermediary banks. Payments just get lost, and everyone’s like, “we’ll try sending it again, and if it’s not there in a couple of weeks…” Charge you an arm and a leg for it too. Awful.

    At least here in the civilised world, when they lose your money you know about it virtually instantly.

  3. How do you know which houses are worth turning over as a burglar? Find out who’s got an account with RBS, they are sure to have a few hundred under the mattress to hedge against the cashpoints being broken 🙁

  4. Mmmmm….one does have one’s suspicions about whether this sort of thing’s intentional. It’s always the same way, isn’t it? The customers can’t get at their money. Never hear a ” We gave you the cash out of the ATM but overlooked debiting your account. Sorry for the inconvenience of having our money for a week”
    A few extra billions on the overnight market really doesn’t do their profits any harm at all.
    Can one be too cynical?

  5. I know someone who works in banking IT, at the coalface (but not with RBS). He says it is all held together by rubber bands and bits of string. Management, middle and senior, have no clue about any of it, wont listen, and constantly make mind-boggingly stupid decisions.

  6. “A basic, yet sadly unacknowledged, truth these days is that banks are an IT system. It should be their core competence. Yet when one looks at the way that they’re organised, the experience of the senior management, they sure don

  7. “A basic, yet sadly unacknowledged, truth these days is that banks are an IT system. It should be their core competence. Yet when one looks at the way that they’re organised, the experience of the senior management, they sure don’t seem to organise themselves that way.”

    Which is why you get people making the fundamental mistake of offshoring/outsourcing IT support of damn complicated systems with decades of history. What works for business card printing and car fleets doesn’t work everywhere.

  8. If a bank consists essentially of a heap of bankers and a heap of geeks, no wonder they’re so bloody bad. D’ye suppose that Mr Hargreaves and Mr Lansdown became billionaires by hiring capable humans in a daringly radical move for the financial services industry?

  9. There’s also some kind of irony in this post being on a blog that hasn’t been working properly for two weeks, not to mention regularly falling off the internets entirely…

  10. Trig, my partner used to work at Lloyds. Lets just say that their attitude to testing did not involve using the best tools. More an attitude of it was designed right so it will work right.

  11. Maybe Tim neeeds to become a script kiddie so we stop seeing stuff such as

    “bank’s systems”

  12. “Yet when one looks at the way that they’re organised, the experience of the senior management, they sure don’t seem to organise themselves that way.”

    On the other hand, how many times did you hear a bank went bust because its IT systems didn’t work well enough? And how many times a bank went bust because the traditional banking managers screwed up? Quite.

    So, they still mostly need to improve their business decisions, not the IT.

    Of course, we might yet see actual really big failures in IT – for instance, the stubbornness of Danske Bank to depend on Java is now costing them many customers that I know personally – it’s no longer just a major inconvenience, but also a significant risk to people’s own IT systems because you can’t use Danske Bank net banking without Java, which exposes people to horrible 0-day exploits if they are not extremely careful. So people actually change banks because of the IT of the bank they used so far.

  13. The trouble with the IT systems of the banks* is that they have been cobbled together over many generations and have always faced the problem of backward compatability.

    What they should do is take a leaf out of the highly successful public sector IT systems like the NHS or HMRC that have saved us so much money over the years. (Please assume a certain amount of sarcasm in this comment.)

    *Notice the way I carfully constructed this sentence to avoid the dreaded apostrophe.
    I certainly don

  14. Far too many years ago, when I worked in IT, we did a complete system switch-over from an old Datapoint mini computer to an IBM AS400 for the chemical company I worked for at time.

    We’re talking complete hardware and software change, phased roll-out over four months by department and a full Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise audits of the finance system which took the better part of a month before they signed off on the system.

    Everything was developed in house but for the new stock control system, which that department insisted on outsourcing – guess which part of the system fell over on it’s roll out day?

    One of big advantages of an in-house coding team is it’s often better placed to resist the dumber ideas that tend to emanate from senior management and prevent them borking the system entirely.

  15. Worth pointing out that RBS runs possibly the biggest IBM z series (that’s mainframe in old fashioned parlance) in the UK.

    Properly setup it is damn hard to get one of those to keel over from a hardware style failure. There’s redundant parts for the backup to the production part plus three ways to failover to the DR system. Must have been a major IT stuff up

  16. I echo what Trig and SBML said. Bank IT architectures resemble spaghetti, and core systems are ancient crumbling edifices. Banks have never invested sufficiently in IT. But I would add that our increasing dependence on automated banking makes the vulnerability of bank IT systems much more of a problem than it used to be. Thirty years ago, if a bank system went down for three hours in the evening no-one would notice. Now it’s a catastrophe, apparently.

  17. I have noticed that the people put in overall charge of IT projects are usually those who find it difficult to find the on off switch of their desktop computer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *