Hundreds of customers took to social media yesterday to vent their anger and fears after money went “missing” from their accounts and they were unable to pay bills and honour direct debits and standing orders.
Ulster Bank said the problem was the result of “human error”, but this was disputed by union bosses who blamed “technology problems” and differed with the view of Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe who referred to an “IT problem”.
The Central Bank, which slapped Ulster Bank with a record €3.5m fine in 2014 after IT failures resulted in hundreds of thousands of customers without basic banking services for almost a month in 2012, said it was examining the matter and expected all financial institutions to have “adequate systems and controls in place”.
The Finance Committee is to haul Ulster Bank chiefs before it next week, while Mr Donohoe said the missing money was “a matter of concern” and said no one should be left “out of pocket”.
In a statement issued mid-afternoon yesterday, an Ulster Bank spokesperson said: “As a result of human error, a payment file did not process last night, which means that some transactions applied to some customers accounts since 20 April are temporarily not showing.
We are investigating this issue as a matter of urgency and have already taken the necessary corrective action which will see recovery actions overnight.
“We apologise for the inconvenience caused and no customer will be left out of pocket as a result.”
It said emergency cash of €500 would be made available to affected customers.
Financial Services Union boss Dermot Ryan said the failing was caused by “technology problems” at Ulster Bank. He said it was a further reminder of the “fragility of an over-reliance on technology” and the impact on customers and staff who had to sort out “this mess”.
In a statement, the Central Bank said it was “monitoring” the situation and was “in contact” with Ulster Bank.
It said: “Customers have a legitimate expectation of high quality, uninterrupted services, whether provided through traditional or online channels. The Central Bank expects all firms to have adequate systems and controls in place and where issues that impact customers arise they should be addressed and rectified urgently, particularly as customers are increasingly using and becoming dependent on online and mobile banking services.”
Mr Donohoe said: “It is a real worry for anybody to be pretty sure how much money is in your bank account and check your phone, use your ATM, or debit card only to find the money is not there.
It can worry people and cause a lot of panic to people and this is why it is really important that Ulster Bank give the assurance, which they have, that no one will be out of pocket and that the Central Bank investigate and inquire as they have in the past.
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the IT failure was a cause of “serious concern” and added: “It is very distressing for Ulster Bank customers to discover that money has gone missing from their bank accounts or that they may have had debit card transactions declined.”
He said IT failures at the bank were happening “all too often”.
Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said Ulster Bank customers had been “let down again”.
He said: “Six years ago, we were reassured by Ulster Bank and the Central Bank that the problem was sorted. Now, we are back to a situation where the bank’s IT system is failing customers.”