As TSB’s crippling technological issues roll into a second week, customers are left wondering what will happen to the bank – and their money. But is this disastrous turn of events demonstrative of wider issues in the modern banking world? And if so, what’s the alternative?
For over four hundred years, we’ve been entrusting our money with banking institutions. As time has gone on and our relationship with banks has developed, we’ve also seen how they can be brought to their knees through economical hardships, falling customer faith, and constant scandal at the top – and yet still prevail.
In the 21st century, however, banking institutions are facing a new wave of competition – and not from one another. Instead, it’s the likes of Blockchain, bitcoin and tech-savvy start-ups which threaten to make traditional banking obsolete in our lifetimes.
The tipping point may even come sooner than expected, as TSB’s mishandling of millions of customers’ records in a clumsy, corporate-led strategy leaves its reputation severely damaged and highlights a clear divide between what customers now expect and what can be offered.
TSB’s Technological Crisis: What Happened?
On April 22nd 2018, the first TSB customers started to notice that something was amiss with their online banking. Following 50 hours downtime for a scheduled update, customers found the system behaving strangely. For some, it was little more than the nuisance of being repeatedly kicked off their account. For others, it was financial chaos: entire mortgages were suddenly written off, they could see the details of other individuals with TSB accounts, and some were now unexpectedly – and heavily – in the red.
As WIRED explored during their reporting on the crisis, many businesses with a TSB account also found themselves struggling. The update, carried out too close to payday, was preventing businesses from paying employees through online banking. Helplines directed individuals to their nearest branches, themselves a sight of disarray and panic as cash was shared out to accommodate everybody’s needs.
The underpinning problem, it was soon revealed, was the transfer of millions of customer records from a cloned version of Lloyds’ database – still in use following the banks’ break up – to another, without understanding what the new database was capable of. To make matters worse, a blustering press release remarking on how successful the transfer had been found its way onto the TSB website, whilst customers received poor customer service and severe distress.
A New Direction with Tech
If we’ve learned anything from the unfolding events at TSB, it’s that banks are still lumbering behind on the tech front, and IT decisions are being made without the proper expertise at hand. Customer reactions also demonstrate their exasperation and demand for a more agile, user-friendly experience – which is where various disruptors and Silicon Giants come in.
A quick search of ‘digital banks’ on Google will provide you with an in-depth insight into the new generation of banking on offer. One of the biggest names in this arena is Monzo, a community-centric bank based entirely on an app – there are no branches, and money can be managed from anywhere in the world. The app also offers useful additional features such as the ability to freeze a card if you lose it, built-in budgeting, and contactless payments.
Some of these features may seem familiar to users of NatWest’s banking app, but what sets Monzo and its fellow digital banks apart is the in-house development of their own infrastructure. From a technical standpoint, this eradicates the need for a reliance on third-party IT providers and offers more flexibility and control. For customers, it means a pro-active response to issues, rather than waiting for a provider’s reactive response.
New means of tech-heavy banking isn’t just a start-up’s game, either. Thanks to a new EU regulation which came into play in January 2018, banks must now share data with third parties of your choice (and with your consent), allowing for payments to be made through the likes of Facebook and Amazon. In the case of Facebook, this is as easy as opening the Messenger app and pinging across an amount direct to your friend, rather than navigating the oft-cumbersome apps offered by some banks.
Addressing Other Needs
It pays to remember, of course, that customers don’t just want to be impressed with flashy tech and refreshed infrastructure behind the scenes: they want great customer service, transparency and the sense that they’re being listened to by the people taking care of their money.
In this arena too, digital banks are offering a refreshing alternative. Opting for a different tact when faced with their own outage, Monzo released an updated debrief on the situation for their customers – a world apart from TSB’s own ill-timed press release. The digital bank further offers transparency by consulting customers before making concrete decisions, and offering access to Monzo’s Trello boards, allowing for users to sneak a peek at upcoming developments.
Monzo’s contemporaries also offer more than just an upgrade to the already-old-fashioned banking apps. Revolut, for example, allows its users to split bills with other Revolut users, and has access to financial services, such as buying Bitcoin, securing a peer-to-peer loan or taking out various types of insurance.
Choosing a Future
If the rising popularity of digital banks and TSB’s own misadventures in IT have proven anything, it’s that there’s an appetite for a different approach to banking. Customers are now after something different – sometimes without the middleman involved at all – and if they’re to remain relevant, banks must embrace the technology and insights on hand. In some cases, such as HSBC’s adoption of AI chat bot ‘Amy’, that sentiment has penetrated the skin of an industry which feels it’s too old to fail.
In the case of TSB, however, there’s still a long way to go. As customers continue to struggle with paying their bills or accessing their money, and tempers continue to boil on social media, TSB and its owner, Banco Sabadell, must make some defining decisions about the bank’s future – either accept that it’s coming, or stay stuck in the past, alone.
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