‘An absolute nightmare’: When online banking goes wrong — very wrong

If you’ve ever cursed your online banking provider because you couldn’t find a link to a page on its website, then spare a thought for the millions of Brits who for the last week have been experiencing nothing short of a nightmare with TSB, one of the country’s major banks.

The story began last weekend when IT workers embarked on work to migrate TSB’s computer systems from the platform of its former owner, Lloyds, to a newly designed platform built by its parent bank, Sabadell, based in Spain.

What could possibly go wrong?

TSB told its five million customers that the bank’s website and app would be inaccessible for most of the weekend, but promised everything would be back to normal by Sunday evening.

But when it flipped the switch, the site remained down for nearly two million of the bank’s customers.

As the bank scrambled to rectify the situation, worrying stories began to emerge from a number of TSB customers who had managed to access their accounts.

These included reports of people being presented with banking information that belonged to other customers, with some people even able to initiate the process for moving funds from those accounts. One person reportedly opened their account to discover a phantom deposit of £13,000 ($17,900), while another told the BBC that half of her current account transactions had gone missing, and her mortgage account had completely disappeared.

Others reported having direct debits cancelled without warning, and their cards declined in stores.

U.K. news outlets have been reporting fresh incidents daily. London-based locksmith Lee McDonald, who has two TSB online accounts for his business and no nearby branch, described the situation to the BBC on Wednesday as “an absolute nightmare,” adding, “I don’t know what money’s coming in, I don’t what money’s going out, it’s unbelievable.”

On Friday, some TSB business customers said they were unable to make the usual payroll run, while others who’d made it to a local branch claimed some had also suffered outages with their internal systems.

Reports at the end of the week suggest only about half of the bank’s online customers are able to log into their account via the web, while its banking app was faring much better. TSB said it could be days before the issue is properly resolved, with the problem likely to drag into next week.

“Hell of a team!”

As if all that wasn’t enough, and embarrassingly for the bank, the Guardian on Thursday came into possession of photos posted on LinkedIn showing IT workers celebrating at the offices that handled the botched migration, with attached messages such as, “TSB transfer done and dusted!” and “Hell of a team!” The photos landed on the professional networking site last weekend, shortly before news of the problems began to emerge.

TSB chief executive Paul Pester offered a “big apology” to the bank’s customers and promised no one would be out of pocket as a consequence of the chaos. In another BBC interview, the boss said the bank was “on our knees” as it tried to clear up the mess, adding that the bank had been forced to call in experts from IBM to try to sort it out once and for all.

It’s not the first time a British bank has had to deal with chaos on such a huge scale. In 2012, a software upgrade left millions of Royal Bank of Scotland customers unable to access their online accounts, resulting in regulators hitting it with a fine of £56 million ($77 million). Many commentators are now wondering what fate awaits TSB, once they get their systems sorted, that is.

And the punchline to this whole sorry saga? TSB’s recent ad campaign (top) ran with the tagline, “Break free and go somewhere better.” It’s likely many people will be heeding the advice, though not in the way the bank intended.

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