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Natwest customers left out in the cold on Cyber Monday: Technical fault downs system

Natwest customers were left out of the Cyber Monday shopping fest yesterday, as widespread technical faults downed the bank's payment systems.

Reports of bank cards being refused began to flood in at around 6:30pm on Monday, and systems remained inaccessible for more than three hours. Customers were left unable to pay for purchases at points of sale, and account holders who use online banking were unable to log on or pay for anything online.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Ulster Bank, all part of the RBS Group along with Natwest, were also affected by the technical issues.

Although Natwest released a statement via social media claiming that the faults had been largely fixed, tweeting "The systems issues that affected our customers last night have now been resolved and all of our services are now back working normally," many users have taken to Twitter on Tuesday morning to report continuing issues.

A spokesperson for the RBS Group promised that "if customers have been left out of pocket as a result of these system problems, we will put this right."

"If any customer is unable to resolve an issue caused by the disruption, they should get in touch with our call centres or come into a branch in the morning where our staff will be ready to help."

Many businesses have also extended their Cyber Monday discounts into Tuesday, to accommodate Natwest customers left out in the cold.

This isn't the first time the RBS Group has suffered technical faults. In March, a "hardware fault" left millions of customers unable to access their accounts, and led to widespread fury being vented on social media.

Natwest users took to Twitter again on Monday, with one tweeting "Great stuff, #NatWest. Leaving your customers stranded YET AGAIN!!! Time to find a decent mattress!!"

Another tweeted, "Card not working, can't buy dinner tonight. Leaving NatWest ASAP this just one of the many screw-ups I've had to put up with."

When contacted by ITProPortal, Iain Chidgey, vice president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa for agile data management firm Delphix, told us "Software glitches are becoming more and more frequent in the banking industry."

He went on to tell us that "often the cause is insufficient testing. The databases in financial institutions are large and often more complex than in other companies. IT departments provide copies of databases for testing, but by the time a copy is available, the data itself is often old. In our data intensive world, data can be obsolete after only a couple of hours, but when refreshing just a single testing data set can take days, the data will never be up to date enough for risk free testing."

"Companies need to make testing a priority and equip their IT teams with technology and resources that will enable them to test often and on recent data," he said.

For now, it seems like the problems have mostly died down, and Natwest have promised to "invest" in a more robust IT infrastructure. But with this only the latest in a string of IT disasters, whether Natwest customers have any patience left with their bank is another matter altogether.

Anyone interested in changing banks after the debacle should be aware that, since September, the new current account switcher service will allow you to switch bank accounts in under seven days, and the process is fully automated. Something to think about, maybe.