PlanB Consulting

RBS – Learning from incidents

Most of you couldn’t miss the RBS, Nat West and Ulster Bank ‘computer glitch’ over last weekend which led to many of their customers being unable to access their accounts and take money out. The papers were full of stories of people unable to buy houses and parents who couldn’t get money to feed their children. Also, there was the story of Olivia Downie from Aberdeenshire who was flown to Hospital Angeles in Tijuana, Mexico, to undergo specialist treatment last month and her parents were unable to transfer the money to pay for her treatment. The computer glitch according the BBC website was caused up a computer upgrade which went wrong. From this incident what can we, as business continuity people, learn? Although computers do break down, this mainly occurs when people do something to them like upgrades. So if there is going to be a major change or upgrade to your IT systems, you should be informed of it in advance and have your incident response plans, room and people on standby just in case it goes wrong. I think the most interesting lesson to be learnt from this incident is actually watching the response of the organisation and analyzing whether the response was good or poor.  For any other major incident similar to this, I think you should monitor the response especially looking at: –

  1. Look at the organisations website. Do they put anything on the website about the incident? Is it buried in the news section or at the front where it is easy to find? On the RBS website, although details of the incident were not on the front page, they could be easily found on the personal banking page. I think that the questions and answers on the website in relation to this incident were a good way to answer customer queries.
  2. Look at who they choose as a spokesperson on the TV. Is it the CEO, the Director of Operations or a (smooth) PR person? What impression does each person give to you? If the incident was your organisation, who would you nominate to talk to the media and front the incident?
  3. Take a look at what compensation the organisation was offering and how easy was it to apply for it. In this incident, the bank has been up front and said they will reimburse customers for any costs incurred whilst being unable to access their money. This may give them larger liabilities, but may also go some way to retaining their customers which could save them money in the long time. Weasel words and avoiding compensating your customers may cause greater anger than the incident in the first place, resulting in a greater cost to your organization in the long run.
  4. Look at the media coverage. What has the media been focusing on? Is it all the hard luck stories of people not being able to get their money, or is it the Olivia Downie type stories which the media love? How have the company been portrayed, and who have they been trying to blame?
  5. Have a look at what pushes the story out of the headlines. In this instance the Barclay’s scandal of manipulating interest rates has pushed this story off the front pages. For RBS this might be good news at they are no longer the focus of attention. Outrage has switched to a new target!
  6. Sooner or later there will a report on the incident. In these reports there are usually lots of useful facts which are good for a case study, plus there are the lessons learned. In the lessons learned you will generally find something you can use to improve your own response to a similar incident.

When the next disaster happens, monitor the situation and the organisations response. You can learn a lot, which will help you to make sure that your organisation doesn’t repeat the same mistakes.

About Charlie Maclean-Bristol

Charlie Maclean-Bristol is one of the Founders and Directors of PlanB Consulting. He is also the Training Director of Business Continuity Training Ltd., a UK-based training provider accredited by the Business Continuity Institute. Charlie is a former Business Continuity Institute board member and one of the very few Fellows of both the Emergency Planning Society and the Business Continuity Institute.

A former Infantry Captain in the British Army, Charlie held several emergency planning, business continuity and crisis management positions within the energy and utility industry before founding PlanB Consulting in 2007. Over the past twelve years, Charlie has delivered business continuity consultancy in 6 of the worlds 7 continents, frequently providing full business continuity roll-outs to organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.

Scroll to Top