Stephen Hester, the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which owns the NatWest has confirmed that an error with a software update was the cause of the technical problems that have affected millions of customers’ bank accounts.
Mr Hester said that the problems have been fixed now but that staff are still working to clear the backlog of transactions caused by the technical error.
The error in the software upgrade meant that hundreds of thousands of customers did not receive payments and were unable to make them. The bank has said that it will refund any fees incurred by customers as a result of the errors.
However, customers are angry at the inconvenience and concerned that missing payments could affect their credit rating. Businesses are also concerned about the potential damage done to their reputations through not being able to pay important suppliers or contractors.
NatWest says that it will work with other banks to ensure people’s credit ratings are not affected. The Payments Council has agreed to help customers from other banks who have been affected.
NatWest has added a FAQ section to its website dedicated to answering common questions on issues associated with the technical problems. The bank has said it will continue to operate extended opening hours until it clears the backlog of transactions. This means around 1,200 branches will be open from 08:00 to 18:00 from Tuesday to Friday this week.
Mr Hester said: "It shouldn't have happened and we are very sorry.
"There was a software change which didn't go right and although that itself was put right quickly, there then was a big backlog of things that had to be reprocessed in sequence, which is why on Thursday and Friday customers experienced difficulty which we are well on the way to fixing."
The bank now faces a massive operation to clarify to affected customers how much refunds they will be entitled too. NatWest says it will judge each claim on a case-by-case basis.
The refunds will cost the bank millions of pounds, though NatWest has not issued an estimate on the likely total liability.
Customers who believe they are entitled to make a claim should go to their local branch and speak to a manager who will arrange how to repay the fees incurred as a result of the bank’s error. Customers are advised to keep copies of any documentation to help with their claim.
NatWest says it will waive overdraft fees and charges on current accounts and will also be liable to pay the extra charges customers have incurred through telephone calls and penalties for late payments of credit card and other bills.
Susan Allen, director of customer services at RBS, said: "We will automatically waive any overdraft fees or charges on current accounts. This will be processed over the next few days."
NatWest has pledged to pick up the cost of restoring customers to the position they were in before the technical errors occurred. However, no decision has been made on whether affected customers will be offered extra compensation payments for inconvenience.
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