Complex banking systems which process millions of transactions each day are bound to present hardware or software failures that lead to digital banking outages.
This is the word from Christine Wu, managing executive for customer value management at Absa, one of South Africa’s biggest banks.
Wu recently spoke to MyBroadband following several incidents in which major banks’ digital channels went down over the month-end and pay-day periods.
Absa suffered a significant outage on 25 June where its online and mobile banking channels went down. Clients had to visit a branch or ATM to perform transactions.
Earlier in that same month, Wesbank experienced an outage that lasted for more than four days, cutting customers off from their online accounts and forcing the bank to cancel an online vehicle auction.
Standard Bank also suffered intermittent downtime on its digital platforms throughout the last week of April, which prompted it to launch a service status page after customers complained of not being aware of the issues timeously or not being updated on the fixing of the problems.
Days before Standard Bank’s issues, Nedbank’s Money App was hit by an eight-hour outage, although its online banking services remained online.
These types of outages can be a big headache for banking customers who need to perform time-sensitive transactions or manage their accounts online, especially at the end of the month.
Absa’s Wu said there were a number of reasons why downtime of digital banking channels could occur.
“Banking systems that support customer-facing applications are typically large, complex and multi-faceted.”
“At Absa, we process 50 million-plus transactions per day across multiple types of technologies, partners and transaction types.”
“Hardware, network or software failures can all contribute to stability challenges.”
In addition, the stability of channels could be impacted by third-party failures, Wu said.
“This is not unique to Absa; most companies that offer sophisticated services using software applications experience outages from time to time.”
Wu said that Absa was acutely aware of the inconvenience this caused to its customers and it worked hard to minimise outages.
She stated that Absa had only had one major incident during month-end in the last three years.
“We design and build our systems to be resilient.”
“In some cases, however, it takes longer than we would like to resolve technical issues. We measure our recovery time on a consistent basis to ensure that we continuously improve our uptime and to minimise the impact on customers,” she said.
“We are consistently looking at ways to improve stability and recovery times by investing in new technologies and ways of work.”
“Cloud computing is one example and Absa is one of the largest adopters of cloud in Africa.”
Wu added that Absa had a formal programme to test the resilience of key applications on an ongoing basis and has developed formal best-practice processes to deal with any major incidents, with marked stability improvements over the past three years.
MyBroadband also asked the other major South African banks which were impacted by digital outages in recent months about what they were doing to address issues on this front.
FNB Head of Digital Banking Giuseppe Virgillito said the bank was investing heavily in its digital platforms to facilitate customer interaction via multiple reliable interfaces.
“Our interfaces are designed on the constructs of convenience, safety, and ease of use to provide integrated financial and lifestyle services to our retail and commercial customers,” Virgillito said.
“Our customers have the convenience to navigate between our unassisted (digital) and assisted (human) interfaces as and when it suits them.”
Virgillito said that FNB endeavoured to resolve any issues with its interfaces and restore services with utmost urgency.
Nedbank’s head of strategy and innovation scouting Tawanda Chatikobo said the bank does not experience higher levels of instability over month-end and specifically on pay-days.
“This is due to rigorous month-end ‘freeze’ periods during which no system changes are made and all hands are on deck to monitor stability and resolve issues that might occur in our systems instantly,” Chatikobo said.
He added that Nedbank takes great care in predicting and managing peak time transaction volumes and its systems are continually configured to care for specific high-volume days.
“In addition, Nedbank has state of the art system monitoring tools and a world-class technology command centre in place, running 24/7, to ensure all transactions are processed as fast as possible.
“This focus is especially true for month-end and pay-days,” he added.
According to Chatikobo, Nedbank had a robust system in place to support clients in instances where outages occur.
“This includes availing alternative channels and, providing direct assistance via frontline and contact centre staff. This support also encompasses regular updates to clients via social media.”
Standard Bank said because businesses and consumers relied heavily on technology and the digital landscape constantly evolved, technical issues were going to crop up.
“We have highly skilled, committed teams who are dedicated to monitoring our technology systems,” the bank said.
“If we have a planned downtime coming up, due to updating a system, for example, we proactively inform our customers.”
“If we experience unplanned downtime, we ensure all information related to the status of services and availability of certain banking features is available to customers on our Standard Bank service status page.”
“This allows customers to remain informed at all times during planned or unplanned downtimes while our teams work on fixing the issues.”
Standard Bank also said the complexity of the issues can play a role in the amount of time it needs to resolve an issue.
“Part of this process is also to ensure any impact on customer accounts have been resolved. We constantly monitor and measure our time to recover and its trend,” the bank added.