How to deal with an online banking outage


If Twitter is a testament to our emotional state, a bank’s website and app suddenly going down is annoying at best — and deeply alarming at worst. Worries about accessing money, paying bills on time and avoiding overdraft fees abound in customer tweets, whether it’s a minor problem or a widespread outage.

It seems that no bank is immune to these problems. Technical failures occur in financial institutions – only online and physical – all over the world. In the UK, major banks suffer outages more than once a month, according to data released earlier this year. Although the United States does not yet have comparable data, technical issues are also happening at institutions here, just as they do on services like Slack and Instagram.

The reasons why, of course, vary. A scheduled maintenance update at a bank could hit a glitch, delaying customers’ access to their digital bank accounts. Or, a failure may occur due to something more extreme. In February, Wells Fargo customers had problems with their accounts for days. The system problems occurred after routine maintenance at one of its facilities left smoke and the power cut, according to the bank’s press release.

The good news is that banks are in the business of protecting your assets. So even if you can’t access your accounts, they are at least safe in the vast majority of cases.

“Clients should take comfort in the fact that fundamentally, despite these outages, their money is not at risk,” said Nitin Tandon, principal at Deloitte Consulting.

You will probably feel frustrated with the downsides. Nevertheless, there are steps you can take to reduce your worries when your bank encounters technical complications. Here’s what to do.

1. Don’t panic in the event of a breakdown

We know. It’s easy to feel panicked. The idea that you can’t see your bank account balance when you live paycheck to paycheck or have to pay a bill right away is scary.

But if your bank is down online, rest assured knowing that the institution will restore service as soon as possible. Banks have multiple layers of checks and balances in place to ensure your account is safe and secure – redundant data centers included.

“Try not to panic too much if you can’t log in; it’s still there,” says Paul Benda, senior vice president, risk and cybersecurity policy at the American Bankers Association.

You may want to check the bank’s social media handles for information on what happened and when the institution thinks it can restore service to ease your mind.

2. Try another banking channel to log in to your account

Beyond the wait, you can try another banking channel. If the mobile banking app is disabled, try logging into online banking on a laptop or other device. If online banking isn’t working, try the bank’s branch or call center.

“It’s very rare that there is an outage in a bank that would cover these four different access points,” Benda says.

Keep in mind, however, that contacting the call center could cause frustration. If there is an unforeseen problem at the bank, chances are the institution will be bombarded with calls, which can lead to a long wait time.

Another avenue to consider: go to an ATM to obtain your bank balance or to withdraw money.

“You always have the fallbacks,” says Jim Burson, senior director at Cornerstone Advisors, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based banking advisory firm.

3. Pay your bills directly with your creditors

If you’re stressed about paying a bill on time, you have another option: go to the creditor’s or service provider’s website and have the money withdrawn from your account.

Going forward, your window for worrying about paying your bills on time might get much smaller. The industry is working on ways to allow consumers to pay their bills in real time. So, in the event of an outage, you won’t feel stressed out scheduling an invoice payment several days before its due date like you do now. Instead, you could pay it immediately after service is restored.

4. Check charges and fraudulent activity after you return online

If you incurred any charges, including overdraft charges, due to a bank failure, contact your financial institution to request a refund. Some banks will automatically refund some fees, as Wells Fargo did during its recent high-profile outage.

You may also want to monitor your accounts closely in the coming weeks after an outage. Attempts by fraudsters to impersonate you typically increase during an outage, says Shirley Inscoe, senior analyst at Aite Group, a Boston-based research and advisory firm.

To combat their efforts, she suggests double-checking all transactions in your account after an incident.

“It only takes a couple of minutes to log in and review the activity and make sure that ‘yes, I’ve done all of those things and it all looks okay,’ and then log out,” says Inscoe.

5. Ditch the idea of ​​getting a fallback option, unless…

You may want to have a backup bank account to avoid this scenario again, but this approach is extreme. Although an occasional outage is not uncommon, repeated outages in the same bank would signal a problem. If you think a backup bank is needed, you should do something a little bolder.

“If I have too many outages with my bank, I would go find another bank that has fewer outages,” says Tandon of Deloitte.

His point underscores what experts encourage: holding your bank accountable for the service it provides.

“The expectation of many of our customers is – and should be – that [banks are] no different than the power company,” says Ken Meyer, chief technology officer for consumer banking at SunTrust. “They expect us to work.”

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