Belfast Telegraph

Gremlin costs Ulster Bank £18m as 300,000 customers get payout

Ulster Bank has paid more than £18 million to almost 300,000 Northern Ireland customers hit by IT problems over the summer.

Thousands were unable to withdraw cash or access their accounts for weeks after maintenance on the system caused computer problems on June 19.

Half those paid received £20 after they had to call into a branch to get cash. The rest had account management fees waived for three months, redressed for lost interest and reimbursed out of pocket expenses, Ulster Bank chief executive Jim Brown said.

"It is true that the incident was a major disaster, there is no doubt about that," he said.

Bank executives apologised for the length of time the crisis lasted, when other members of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) banking group resolved the same issue within days.

Top executives offered to forfeit their bonuses.

Thousands of customers have left the bank since the crisis.

Mr Brown told a joint meeting of Stormont's Finance and Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee: "It is also clear we had issues with the contingency plan relating to our systems operating as they should have, because our systems were down and could not process transactions for quite a few days."

Ulster Bank was quickly able to extend branch opening hours and bring extra staff into its call centre, he said.

Customers received £20 in compensation if they visited the bank between June 19 and July 18 and made a transaction.

The bank also said it will reimburse all "reasonable out-of-pocket expenses" resulting from the major disruption.

It has since been criticised by politicians, business leaders and consumer bodies for initiating only a reimbursement scheme rather than offering any wider compensation.

Mr Brown said all customers are being returned to the financial position they would have been in had the incident not happened and are receiving fair redress for inconvenience caused.

"What happened over the summer was unprecedented in the RBS Group. I want to acknowledge once again that the level of service provided to our customers during this period was unacceptable and that it caused widespread frustration and inconvenience," he said.

He apologised unreservedly to all those affected.

"We understand the impact of this matter and have been working tirelessly to put things right for customers and to rebuild their confidence and trust."

The bank said it has revised key processes to take into account the impact on customers and strengthened testing procedures applied when changes like software upgrades are made. Additional monitoring has been introduced during processing of the day's payments, which includes upgrading customer balances.

The Financial Services Authority is conducting an independent investigation and has interviewed senior Ulster Bank staff.

MLA Patsy McGlone said just three out of eight of the bank's 800,000 customers have received payments.

"It was a major crisis and your contingency did not work. It fell flat on its face," he told the bank's senior executives.

There are still plenty of questions to ask, chiefly about the speed of the reimbursement scheme and how long customers were left out of pocket, Mr McGlone said.

The computer failure affected the entire RBS Group but Ulster Bank took the longest to resolve the issue.

Ten weeks after the initial problem, the bank was still warning some customers that their statements may not be correct.

Belfast Telegraph

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