RBS Group hopes £750m IT shakeup splurge will prevent next bank mainframe meltdown

Bad luck if your branch 'brand' goes down, though


RBS Group has spent £750m overhauling its IT – which includes replacing the systems at the heart of its mainframe mega-meltdown in 2012.

The banking giant has established three separate batch schedulers to process transactions at NatWest, Ulster Bank Northern Ireland, and Ulster Bank Republic of Ireland. It's hoped this will prevent a repeat of the group-wide crash that, without warning, left millions of Brits unable to access their money for three days.

NatWest, Ulster Bank Northern Ireland, and Ulster Bank Republic of Ireland – all owned by RBS Group – were sharing a single processing system at the time of the colossal software cock-up. RBS itself has its own scheduler and will continue with that configuration.

“Separating batch schedulers means that, if a problem occurs with transactions on one of these brands, it will not impact the activity taking place to support the other two, avoiding a repeat of the 2012 system outage,” RBS noted within its first-quarter financial results for 2014, which were published on Friday [PDF].

The attempt to move away from a single point of failure for the whole group is part of a £750m three-year project to improve the "safety, security and resilience" of the group’s IT systems, we're told.

The change went live on March 21 this year.

It was human error by those running RBS’s CA-7 batch processing software on 19 June 2012 that caused up to 16.7 million customers of RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank frozen out of their accounts. The problem was cleared up by about 26 June.

Sources told The Reg that the mistake was made in the process of backing out a change when an inexperienced tech staffer cleared the whole overnight queue, erasing all the transactions awaiting processing and halting the flow of money into accounts. This left the bank group with a massive backlog of work.

The bank subsequently pledged to spend £450m on top of its annual £2bn IT spend to avoid a repeat by buying a new mainframe and new backup systems. The 2012 crash saw the bank come under investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which is still looking into the affair.

RBS has suffered two outages since then, also the result of mainframe-related problems.

Online banking, cash machines and card payments went offline for three hours in early 2013, with a second outage in December 2013 seeing customers not just locked out but money that had been credited to accounts vanishing into thin air, resulting in bounced payments and additional charges levied on customers. ®

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