UK banking was struck by one IT fail every day for most of 2018

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The UK banking sector was hit by IT outages on a daily basis in the last nine months of 2018, with 302 reported TITSUPs according to consumer group Which?.

Financial institutions have been required to report major operational or security incidents to the sectoral watchdog since April 2018, and Which? used this data to assess the frequency of failures.

It found that, between 1 April and 31 December 2018, there were 302 reports – equivalent to a mean of 1.1 incidents each day. Which? said that six of the major banks had suffered at least one incident apiece every two weeks.

The worst offender during that nine-month period was Barclays, which reported 41 major incidents. The rest of the top five slots were populated by Lloyds Bank, with 37; Halifax/Bank of Scotland, with 31; Natwest, with 26; and RBS with 21.

The surprise result will be IT meltdown bank TSB, which reported just 16 incidents during the final three-quarters despite its chaotic year.

The bank suffered a week-long outage during April after a long-planned systems migration failed, costing it some £330m, tens of thousands of customers and one CEO.

However, Which? pointed out that the data doesn't show how long services were down for. It is also possible that subsequent outages while the bank tried to get services up and running would be classed as part of the same major incident.

Other institutions reporting relatively few incidents were Ulster bank (18), Santander (16), Cahoot (15) and HSBC/First Direct (13), Co-op (7), Smile (6) and Nationwide (5). Banks reporting just one incident included Monzo and Yorkshire Bank and Clydesdale.

In addition to banking IT glitches, payment services Mastercard and Visa both suffered unexpected downtime in summer last year.

Which? said that when taken together, payment services outages and banking IT failures are evidence that the UK has "a long way to go before it will be resilient enough to support a cashless society". On top of this is widespread closure of bank branches and ATMs.

"Our research shows that these major banking glitches, which can cause huge stress and inconvenience to those affected, are even more common than we feared," said Which? money editor Jenny Ross.

"This highlights why it is so important that a regulator is given responsibility to protect cash and other non-digital payments as a back-up when technology fails and to ensure no one is left behind as cashless payments grow in popularity."

The Which? assessment follows an Financial Conduct Authority survey, published in November last year, which looked at 300 large and small financial firms between September 2017 and October 2018. That found some 646 operational incidents, with 511 classed as technology and 119 as security.

At the time, the authority expressed concern that firms weren't addressing "obvious risks" and hadn't considered fundamental aspects of resilience.

The House of Commons Treasury Committee is carrying out two related inquiries: one into banks' IT crises and another off the back of the Access to Cash Review, which published its interim report in December. ®

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