Updated If a digital bank is unable to regularly provide online banking services, at what point does it cease to be a digital bank? Some disgruntled customers of Smile, a trading division of the Co-Operative Bank, may be posing this very question after five full days of woe.
Reports of discontent began to flood into Twitter, that well of human misery, on the morning of 5 July as customers asked if there was any possibility of actually accessing their accounts via the app or a browser.
@bankwithsmile is the mobile app not working this morning?— Kerry Stylski (@kez_gallagher) July 5, 2020
The team manning the social media outpost for Smile were on hand to admit the “app” was running slow, then that systems gears were crunching, then that the resident techies were “investigating”. Then after maintenance, it was up for some, not for all.
On day two, a bunch of customers complained the app was tottering, online banking was still unavailable, irrespective of the device or browser they used, and an error message was being displayed.
Day three and frown was the default position of many Smile punters. The IT team continued to look into the technical issues and despite customers' requests for a technical explanation, no details were forthcoming. Advice to clear history, cookie and cache from the browser didn’t result in success for some, but the service returned for at least one lucky soul.
The big guns were rolled out on day four when customers were assured by Smile that they could check their bank balance, make transactions and existing transfers. And those poor old souls in the basement were still toiling away to fix the tech, the bank added.
Hi Sandy, we're aware of an intermittent issue effecting our app and online banking. Our IT team are working to resolve this as soon as possible. Thanks - Chris— smile UK (@bankwithsmile) July 8, 2020
Intermittency issues and the same excuses from Smile continued yesterday and frustration started to boil over with some asking to transfer to a Co-Operative Bank account.
@bankwithsmile time to switch. Continuous problems with the banking app. No one has the time to sit on hold and pay for the privilege 😒 everyone appreciates that there may be the odd IT glitch but this is ridiculous!— Gaynor Chart (@Cj_dex_ramona) July 9, 2020
Last night, one of its customer reflected the feelings of many when he complained: "To retain customer confidence you really need to be more transparent and provide an explanation of what is happening. If it was a major fire at the data centre or a DDOS attack you would have told us. The information vacuum is leading people to fear the worst."
Outages will occur, but the thing that sorts the wheat from the chaff is the way an organisation responds. Smile has responded to most of the customers that complained but always with pretty much the same line: yes it was having problems, but the IT team had whipped out the magnifying glass and were still investigating.
The lack of new information has led some to speculate that a cyber attack was to blame for service interruption but this would not fit with an online service that periodically returns only to disappear again.
A spokeswoman at Smile told us there is “no technical information to share at this stage” and the IT “guys are working hard” to resolve it. The PR rep said the app and online services were “intermittently available and we took the service down to fix it.”
“Now it is unavailable, unfortunately.”
OK. Well that should make sense. To someone.
Customers that use the Co-Operative’s online banking services were unaffected, said the spokesperson and customers could still use their cards to make transactions.
Smile, which claims to be the first fully digital bank in the UK, has no estimate, at least not one that it is willing to make public, on when services will return. So sadly, it has left customers with anything but shiny happy faces. ®
Updated to add at 1014 BST on 13 July
Smile contacted us on 11 July to say "following successful maintenance during the night we have restored access to smile online banking and the smile mobile app".
There was no technical explanation of what caused this issue in the first instance.