Future Tech

RBS and its Really Bad Software

0 Comments 30 June 2012

I work in technology and along with my writing it provides me with a very good living but every so often something happens that makes me realize, firstly how horribly dependent we are on the stuff and secondly how its failure can pitch us into chaos, literally at the click of a mouse. I refer of course to the RBS debacle that I was unfortunately caught up in, along with millions of others last week.

It was quite a surreal experience to say the least, which began with a call from my wife to say that she couldn’t withdraw cash out of our joint account. Of course that didn’t make sense because I had just transferred funds into it only the previous day. I checked online and sure enough there was no money in our account. What’s more it was significantly overdrawn. Well at least more so than usual! At this stage I didn’t realize we were even with the RBS. Banks as you may or may not know have an annoying habit of operating brands that operationally are supported by other banks infrastructure. We happened to be with one.

I immediately called them and had one of the most out of body conversations I’ve had in a while.

It went something like this.

‘How can I help you today sir.’

‘Well, the money I transferred in yesterday has disappeared.’

‘Yes sir we are experiencing a few technical problems at the moment. But let me reassure you that is the money is on your account.’

‘But I can’t see it. My account is overdrawn in fact.’

‘Oh don’t worry sir. What you are seeing is not what I can see. The money is there alright.’

‘OK if it is why can’t we withdraw any?’

‘Ah. Well. That’s because it’s not there.’

‘But you just said it was.’

‘It is but the ATM network can’t see it either so isn’t allowing you to withdraw money. But not to worry. You can go into any RBS branch and withdraw all you want. Just bring your passport, driving license or other form of ID.’

‘Buts it’s not letting me transfer any money either.’

‘Well it is sir. On some accounts you can and others you can’t’. But don’t worry, it’s an intermittent problem so try again tomorrow and you might be in luck.’

I slowly put the phone down.

So there you have it. I don’t associate banks with intermittency, technical problems, luck and surreal conversations about ghost money that may or may not be there depending on the day of the week. Banks should be about trust, solidity, and confidence.

And then it struck me. One simple software error and ten million people couldn’t get at their money. The Bank didn’t pick it up for three days and suddenly our thin veneer of civilization, our technology driven society is creaking alarmingly at the seams.

Someone once said we are all three meals away from anarchy. I can’t remember who but I would like to rephrase. We are actually three clicks or less away from anarchy

In recounting the conversation to my wife she angrily retorted that banks should no longer be trusted to hold our money in the future.  Government should run them so this sort of thing doesn’t happen. And then we both realized. RBS is owned by the government. As if they can be trusted to manage a technology driven offering either.

I’m off to respring my mattress. It might be the safest place for my cash in the future!

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