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Natalie Asprey
Natalie Asprey
Marketing Communications Manager

Failure to connect: Why are Britain’s Banks getting their IT so wrong?

In recent weeks, high street banks Barclays, NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank have all suffered from ‘ IT glitches’ with account holders reporting various problems with their online and app platforms.

Barclays customers were locked out of their accounts for hours whilst issues were resolved on Thursday 20th September whilst NatWest, RBS & Ulster Bank customers suffered similar issues on Friday 21st September and, it’s not the first time, NatWest had similar problems in April 2017 when its banking app failed to work, with customers commenting they appeared to be transferring money into thin air.

Meanwhile, TSB which suffered a major systems meltdown earlier this year resulting in its customers being locked out of their accounts for weeks is still trying to stabilise its IT system in the wake of it’s much-publicised data migration disaster and its customers still wait for answers and compensation.

The Bank of England have recently released an Operational Resilience Paper which calls for the need for financial services organisations to fully understand their systems and processes and to be able to specify which systems are business critical and how quickly they’d need those systems back online.

But what exactly are they getting so wrong in the first place?

Julian Parkin is Managing Director of Parcadian Limited and has over 25 years, experience delivering major change portfolios across financial services organisations:

“ It’s really to do with the complexity and the age of the systems within the banks, these systems have been implemented over many years and often in line with regulatory deadlines, as a result, compromises are nearly always made to meet the timeline and to keep cost in line, what this can mean from a practical point of view is suboptimal linkages between systems or manual workarounds which in turn layer the complexity of the systems.

Added to this is the desire in financial services to implement change faster, everyone wants to be agile but in doing so conflicts between multiple systems are created which are not always resolved in test environments, test activity is expensive and factors like time delay or cost decisions often reduce test time, in turn, increasing instability. Once core systems are live the sheer complexity of them makes it very difficult to carry out business continuity exercises like taking systems offline and to be confident that end to end processes can be run successfully and that’s the complexity of what these organisations are wrestling with”

Richard James is a transformational change leader and programme director with experience of delivering complex change programmes:

Lots of the issues I see with failing projects and programmes are to do with the way these are established and run. It’s critical to lay the foundations correctly if a project is going to be successful, including ensuring the right engagement from sponsors, business and project leaders and establishing the right culture and project behaviours from the outset.

All too often projects are costed simply to gain approval and unrealistic timescales are set, meaning there’s compromise from the start and therefore there is an unrealistic chance of success.

There needs to be clarity and alignment on desired outcomes and how the project will get there, and this needs to be communicated and understood at all levels. Sponsors and project leaders need to regularly “look in the mirror” to ensure they are still on the correct trajectory to ultimately deliver the expected results.

As businesses look more towards agile ways of working, the basics of strong governance can sometimes get diluted, resulting in reduced risk management, plan integrity issues, increased costs and ultimately project failure.

Team members and business stakeholders need an environment where they are openly encouraged to raise issues. Sponsors and project leaders need to demonstrate that they are listening, feedback is acted upon and the results are communicated effectively. Celebrating success needs to be part of the DNA of the programme and communication approaches need to evolve throughout the lifecycle of the programme.

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