HSBC customers in the dark as online banking goes down

The bank's customers have been unable to transfer cash, make payments or check balances online.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 05 Jan 2016

The last thing most people would want after New Year festivities is another headache, but unfortunately for HSBC customers, that's exactly what they've been given. Millions were said to be experiencing issues with online banking following hours of disruption yesterday. While the bank initially said the problem was resolved, it acknowledged today the website still wasn't allowing customers to log on.

In a hugely helpful display of solid customer service HSBC has posted a message on Twitter acknowledging ‘further service issues’, but didn’t provide any insight as to why the site wasn’t working. It did though say the issues were ‘not related to a cyber attack’ which will provide a tiny sliver of solace to the frustrated customers.

On Monday, up to 17m personal and business customers found themselves locked out of their online banking accounts for up to nine hours. While the mobile app for personal customers was still working, business users were dealing with ‘significantly reduced capacity’, as all services ran more slowly than usual.

NatWest’s customer service Twitter account was on hand to chip in with the suggestion that it was easy to switch accounts, but that might not be the most reassuring of suggestions. Last year RBS Group (which includes NatWest) revealed it suffered a cyber attack on its online services that left customers struggling to log on for nearly an hour, just as monthly pay cheques were arriving in accounts.The group said it was the victim of a deliberate surge in internet traffic – ‘Distributed Denial of Service’.

That inconvenience was kept under one hour, whereas this HSBC palaver is hobbling into a second day, but RBS doesn't have the best digital track record. It warned that between January and September 2015, nearly 5,000 customers fell victim to scams at a cost of more than £25m, noting that 70% of its customers who are scammed don't get any money back.

Online banking is on the rise – research from CACI for the BBA in June last year forecasted that by 2020 customers will use their mobile to manage their current account 2.3bn times, more than internet, branch and telephone banking put together. As of March 2015, UK customers had downloaded banking apps on 22.9m occasions in total – a rise of 8.2m in a year.

Its rapid take-up hasn’t been welcomed across the board though, and concerns remain as to what extent banks have compromised security in order to roll out quicker payment services for expectant customers. Ross Anderson, the professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory, told the Guardian he stayed clear of banking online due to the fraud concerns.

‘Since the late 1990s, the move to phone banking and then the internet has led to contract terms and conditions along the lines of "You agree to be liable for any transactions which, according to our records, were made using your password, whether you actually made them or not",' he said. 'Basically, the banks used the move online as an opportunity to dump the fraud risk on the customer.’

HSBC’s fumbling two-day problems may not be cyber attack related and customers' security may not have been compromised, but it's a reminder there’s still considerable work to be done in the world of online banking. A tough ask when customers, increasingly used to online, have become more impatient when it comes to tech troubles.

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