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Singapore's DBS bank suffers digital fail – yes, regulatory bodies have noticed

Might want to rethink that 'digital to the core' slogan

For three days this week, Singapore bank DBS suffered an intermittent outage, preventing customers accessing online accounts and triggering potential punitive measures by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

In a video statement to customers on 24 November, DBS Singapore country head Tse Koon said:

Yesterday, we identified a problem with our access control servers and this is why many of you have been unable to log in. We have since been working round the clock, together with our third-party engineering providers, to fix the problem and services were restored at 2am.

Unfortunately, this morning, the same problem recurred and while the situation is less severe than yesterday, we know that many of you are still unable to get access.

Understandably, customers were unhappy. One Twitterer pointed out the unfairness of potential late fees amidst a digital outage from the bank.

Another tweeted that they were relying on the island's PayNow digital transfer service and cash as a workaround to digital banking.

DBS itself issued a string of apologies and updates on its Twitter account, beginning Tuesday afternoon. The bank's social media account even took time to deny a rumour that the disruption was linked to the sale of treasury bonds by Myanmar's National Unity government.

"There is no truth to this. DBS has not sold any such bonds," it declared.

At 21:00 local time on Thursday night (13:00 Friday UTC), the bank proclaimed the great internet crash debacle of 2021 over. Customer logins and transactions were declared back to "business as usual."

The declaration was followed by a few "but is it really though?" responses, along with some musings on the benefits of crypto over traditional money.

Regardless of whether or not the system was back to flawless performance, it was too late if DBS hoped to escape the attention of regulators. The Monetary Authority of Singapore weighed in on Wednesday night.

"MAS expects all financial institutions to have systems and processes to ensure the consistent availability of financial services to their customers," said MAS assistant managing director Marcus Lim, who added that the regulatory body considered the matter a serious disruption that would need a root cause investigation complete with plans for remedial measures.

"MAS will consider appropriate supervisory actions following the investigation," added Lim.

Ironically, DBS was given the "Best Digital Bank in the World" award in 2016 by Euromoney. Granted, that was more than five years ago in human time and 50,000 years in pandemic time.

The company in the past has also toted the slogan "digital to the core" – peppering it into interviews and annual reports [PDF].

The snafu isn't likely to affect DBS negatively in the long term. The company boasted over 10.7 million consumer banking and wealth management customers and 240,000 institutional customers in 2020 [PDF]. The bank retains dominant market positions in multiple areas across Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Furthermore, DBS has kind-of been here before – albeit over a decade ago. MAS took supervisory action against the bank for a July 2010 major systems failure that left customers unable to withdraw cash from ATMs or make point-of-sale payments for approximately seven hours.

For now though, DBS is doing a lot of apologizing. ®

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