From our ever popular series questions in headlines we can answer

What did we learn from TSB bosses’ grilling by MPs?

We would have learnt something if we’d actually had the following conversation:

“Why the cock up?”

“Because it’s very difficult”

“Why did you do it then?”

“Because every bank is going to have to do it”

“What, every bank?”



“Because banking IT systems are shit held together by sealing wax and string. Complete replacement will have to happen.”

That’s not the conversation we did get and that’s why we learnt nothing.

16 thoughts on “Nothing”

  1. Why the cock up is a good question. One the regulator should be crawling over. Was it a badly executed plan or just a bad plan. The answers may well lead to jail time. Perhaps the MPs would be better advised grilling the regulators!

  2. you missed the bit about banks’ IT systems not having a hope in hell of being able to cope with the massive deluge of new regulations that have been thrown at the banking industry

  3. The smallish financial institution I worked for between 1999 and 2006 was brought to the point of breaking by trying to implement a new retail banking system. In the end, with the usually-conflicting blue-sky demands and fantasies of the marketing lobby, the Treasury lobby, the Compliance lobby and the almost complete ignoring of the views of the people who’d have to make it work in the real world, the project was cancelled and £10mio written off.

    If organisations on the scale of Natwest / RBS, Lloyds etc tried to replace their legacy systems with an integrated solution I suspect they’d be there for decades, and might not survive as viable businesses. It’s akin to holding yourself in the air by pulling on your bootlaces. Or excising your skeleton to treat arthritis, then putting it back afterwards.

  4. I can see why this in an issue for the customers.
    I can see why it’s an issue for the shareholders.
    I can certainly see why it’s an issue for the regulator.

    But why MPs? It’s just a venue for showboating by a bunch of incompetent gobshites who have no interest in resolving anything just humiliating the poor victims, who have no real right of reply or defence. Ask one of the MPs to spec or code a bit of software. Or indeed formulate a law which works, their own job which is so often completely ballsed up, that remaining bit of it that hasn’t been outsourced to the EU.

  5. It’s the reason why, eventually, an overseas competitor will come in and eat the big names alive. A new business has a much greater chance of succeeding than one trying to adapt 30 years late.

  6. Were I a musician– which I’m not–I would write a classic driving rock anthem called “Bashed by the Blockchain” to celebrate the above predicted events.

  7. I worked briefly – though at the time it seemed all too long – on the attempt by RBS to spin out W&G. RBS tried to replicated their own systems in new datacentres, though it was just all too hard and in the end they canned the programme completely.

    IBM were approached as they needed new Mainframes to do this, only to be told that the RBS ones hadn’t been made in 20 years.

    You’d hope that RBS senior management would realise what a mess they’re in if they can’t re-create their exisitng IT infrastructure, but somehow I doubt it.

  8. Bloke in Germany

    Don’t you run something this critical in a test environment, but with the same data being fed into it? And switch over only once it’s been producing identical output for weeks or months without breaking down? And then keep the original one running alongside for a long period of time, in case you need to roll back urgently?

  9. BiG, in a sensible world -yes. As I have learned over the years CIOs and other IT seniors don’t do sensible.

  10. The Pedant-General

    But they did. They did 7 dress rehearsals of the migration process etc etc.

    The problem – as I understand it – was a failure to understand the performance on the middleware under real user load. This is fantastically difficult to reproduce.

    The core functions – the bits you are referring to in terms of giving the same answers – genuinely did give the same answers. The issue here is switching over the outlying systems to use the new backend.

    This is really not a simple issue, much as MPs might want it to be.

  11. Does this mean that once TSB have unknackered it they will be the best-placed of the High St banks IT-wise? Should I start to plan a “migration” from Lloyds? We are already planning to migrate my wife from RBS.

    What about, say, M&S bank, or Tesco’s, or Sainsbury’s: are they run on software from the bigger banks? How about Nationwide BS: is it potentially in the soup too? Santander? Metrobank? Handelsbanken? Clydesdale/Yorkshire Bank?

  12. It’s not what systems they have. It’s whether they have plans to change them.

  13. Bloke in North Dorset

    It really is a bit much for MPs to lecture a business on how to run a massive and complex project given that the most complex thing most of them will have done is planning and timing the stabbing of a colleague in the back.

    Despite what the cynics say there will have been some really smart people involved in this project, but they will still have faced the usual trilemma of cost vs quality vs timescales.

    All projects are cost constrained and at some point someone will have said “How much? You gotta be effing joking!”

    Quality: Someone will have put unnecessary demands in there that may not just have cost a lot but will have added a layer of complexity.

    Timescales: It looks like they were under pressure from the regulator and also on costs to get this project done.

    No amount of testing and rehearsals will provide 100% certainty and there also comes a point in any project like this where roll back is no longer an option.

    That is not to excuse the CEO who should carry the can for a major failure like this, if only to encourage the others. Its why they get paid the big bucks although many seem to forget that when it suits them.

    I’ve no doubt there will be the usual witch hunts and punishment of the innocent and promotion of the guilty out of the way..

  14. I know someone who’s been a senior techie for a few major banks, and he also says that they’re held together by rubber bands and bits of string. And the managers are all clueless muppets (he’s refused to go into management because even though they get paid more he wouldn’t be able to stand the idiocy.)

  15. As a sign of how much string and rubber bands are used to hold bank’s systems together, I understand that when telephone banking was invented that some banks just created a new branch and fed all the telephone transactions through that “branch”. The existing system just saw the transactions from the telephone front end system as if they were real people visiting a real branch in a real city. Then when internet banking came into existence, it was tacked on to the telephone system. So the telephone system is the back end to the internet banking system and is the front end to the main system. Yep – crap!

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