Friday, August 23, 2013

When the Crown stumbled

Being somewhat familiar with Internet and computers, I have always been making my banking transactions from home, so that the bank is relieved of hosting at least one customer less at the branch. I am a strong advocate of Internet banking and use of other means which would desist customers from visiting a branch. I have also been under the impression that when you have sufficient balance at your disposal and the means to access it, you are safe at anytime to face any exigencies in life. And unfortunately, it was this surmise that fell in a heap early this week. No my bank did not go bust nor was there any run on the bank. Customers were simply unable to withdraw their amount and make any transactions. Their bank balance suddenly looked like the film heroine whom you could admire from a distance but could do nothing more than dreaming about doing!

The bank originally established to encourage 'Overseas' operations but very much 'Indian' as for its banking roots are concerned screeched to a halt last weekend. The bank, which has so far been boasting of being the only bank in India to be using a home grown software developed by its own computer department manned by its  dedicated set of domain rich knowledgeable officials, was in fact driving with its proprietary software for quite sometime, with occasional hiccups. The hiccups, as and when happened, were deftly handled more by the patience of its loyal clientele than by the experts who  pitched in to put it back on rails.

What happened this week was a disaster- What started as a trickle slowly spread from Internet Banking to the ATMs until the final crown viz., the main banking software came tumbling down, leaving both the branch officials as well as the hapless customers aghast. For close to four days, people could not effect any transactions, withdraw money, close loans, make overdue payments resulting in a reported loss of hundreds of crores of rupees. While Rome was burning, the Bank chose to play violin with its own melancholy of " Unable to service due to Maintenance...". The Bank chose to clean up its own backyard for four days, at the cost of innocent and patient customers, as per the bank’s self confessed announcement at its net banking site.

At branches there were many instances of customer silently suffering such as unable to withdraw matured deposits, a parent restricted from proceeding with purchases for their wards’ marriage and the variations of rupee value and gold prices not exactly helping them. An international travel could not be made and a student was forced to continue to live with the suspense about the fate of his educational loan application. 

The rumor mills were also doing the rounds which forced even some of the irate customers to rush to the branches as they were fearing the worst for the bank, since it  could not transact for days continuously.

The branch officials were the worst to be affected as they were left to fend for themselves against the angry customers, who at places even threatened to take law into their own hands. Some frustrated staff, unable to face the customer’s ire chose to vent their feeling over the social network.

A software crash is not an unknown incident and it can happen to any organization at any time. What was more appalling was the reaction of the bank to the disaster in keeping everyone in the dark about the reason and the status of the remedial measures. If they have taken four days to maintain the software at customer cost, as they claim, I have a feeling that their legal department will be having its hands full, facing compensatory claims in the months to come. Clearly the bank was found wanting in handling the situation and in my opinion, this is more a disaster from the PR perspective for the bank than the software .

It is also time for the bank to introspect whether it is adequately shielded against the shortcomings that normally accompany the home grown software such as sufficiency and independence of testing of its software, periodical independent audits and Disaster Recovery Measures.

A disaster of this nature impacting the customers, though tragic, is also viewed  in its aftermath as an awakening exercise. It will be in order for the Board to constitute an Independent enquiry to find out the robustness of the software to meet the increasing functional and non-functional stress and expectations arising out of the flurry of new branches, whether lessons learnt from any previous such outages were addressed and the effectiveness of the Disaster Recovery Management which is in vogue.

As one who is associated with the bank for decades, I bled to hear customers using expletives in their ire. But, it was also heartening to hear that some of the branches went out of the way to meet the customers’ needs by making payments despite the non availability of the support system.  It is such gestures from loyal staff that helps me to retain my belief that this bank will be held high soon.

Unlike yesteryear when customers used to visit branches to form opinions, present day clients conduct their banking transactions from across the globe. Their gateway to the bank is its software which sits as a crown on the massive edifice of the bank, built on years of service and reputation. When it falters, it creates a very bad taste in the mouth. So, it is paramount that such outages are reduced to absolute minimum in terms of minutes and not hours and days. Hope banks  remember that it is not a sin to falter but to allow that to repeat, is. 


  1. K. Suresh wrote on 24-Aug-2013:

    "...Understood the issues and the pain. No doubt about it. The bank is in the process of finalizing a new core banking system.

    Similar incidence had happened at RBS last year as well."

  2. It is not because of the system or the software. It is about corruption of data due to a minute power surge or drop. It can corrupt number of tables in that split second. Howfast we recover the data is the question ?

  3. Could be true sir. Post crisis there are so many news releases which were conspicous by its absence and that kept the customers on tenter hooks and also fed the rumor mills