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Abbey’s new online banking keeps customers away from their cash

angrycustomersHave you ever bought a product or service that worked perfectly well and then a new version is released that inexplicably stops working and develops a set of obvious and disastrous bugs, or have you ever heard of a software or media publisher who believes all their customers are potential thieves and have to jump through so many hoops that only real software pirates get to have any fun? Well, this has been happening with Abbey National’s recent online banking software upgrade this week and I’m totally unimpressed.

As I write this, I’m starting my second week of an effective online banking outage thanks to Abbey’s “upgrade” of their service last Sunday. There was nothing wrong with the previous online software which allowed me to check statements, make transfers and the like, but the surprise new version promises so many more useful features like selling you a loan or a mortgage while you’re checking your statements. This advertising isn’t so bad, if they didn’t have to recode so much of the system to add these features that it’s now fundamentally broken for a huge number of small business users like ourselves.

Evolved Software Studios has two accounts with Abbey National, and one of my other start-ups, Esteam, has a further two on the way. I’ve referred several other business owners to use Abbey’s service (they offer a good set of solid guaranteed bank accounts, with secure financial backing and no charges for the life of the account). If you’d have thought that I’d be able to reach a human being on the phone you were wrong.

They’ve substantially changed some of the architecture (I’ll come to this later) which means that many customers, like myself have had to spend several hours on the phone sorting out account issues that worked perfectly well before. Issues such as transferring money between accounts, making payments or just simply logging in. I’ve spent almost two hours on the phone to Abbey’s technical support desk in India, which wouldn’t matter at all if the operators could speak in English, I kid you not. They couldn’t tell me what the problem was except that it is uncomfortably hot in Mumbai for this time of year.

Last week I was, “Not authorised to perform this function”. Several hours of customer calls later and the result of my hard earned time is a refreshingly new error message, “You currently have only one account linked to your card”. I’ve also seen another rather more cryptic error, “bean error not found within scope”. Apparently I’m not alone as a quick Google search reveals many other business account customers have similar issues.


Abbey also decided that crippling our financial systems wasn’t enough, they banned all our company payment cards. After an hour and a half on the phone to India I was told this was due to a suspicious account activity. The purchase of £500 of hardware for our technology company before Christmas was apparently “unusual”. (Note to those who don’t know us: It’s not at all unusual to spend £500 or more at a supplier). I was told that Abbey’s fraud system fires far more often just before Christmas. That’s difficult when you’ve got suppliers to pay just before Christmas… Also when Abbey only provide premium rate phone numbers for their technical support and customer services lines, that’s just plain rude.

Architecture Change

Observing from a customer point of view it looks as though Abbey’s changed it’s online banking architecture, more specifically instead of having an online banking account login which you apply for when you set up the accounts, you now have a debit card which can be used to log into your online banking after setting it up. Needless to say I don’t think Abbey’s technical architects gave much thought to those customers who don’t have (or access to) company debit cards. Neither did they think much about customers who have accounts that don’t have debit cards attached to them, like savings accounts, since this means that you cannot transfer money between cards as that equates in Abbey’s new architectural model to transferring money between cards, and you can’t do that with a savings account.

Therefore, any business customer who has a savings account for say, putting aside money to pay taxes, can’t. Unless they call Abbey to make the transfer manually. And you have to call and wait for hours because as a business user you still can’t use Abbey branches for anything.

I wonder why, when the poo hit the fan, Abbey didn’t simply press the panic button and roll back their machine images to an earlier version; abandoning the upgrade as it simply doesn’t work? It seems to me that there was a failure of having any procedure for failure. No backup, no phased deployment, just all-or-nothing, death-or-glory migration. If a Micro-ISV like ourselves can do it (and get hired by financial institutions to do it), why can’t Abbey/Santander, who presumably have a lot of cash to pave the way?

Do you get the error message, “You currently only have one account linked to your card. To add another account, please call 08459 724 724.”? Well, don’t bother calling that number because it relates to personal banking only and you’ll find out after a few minutes that their phone system can’t handle business accounts. Here’s a handy trick though for those so inclined – when you get a phone menu on a system (like the one Abbey uses) and before you get the “Press 1 for… Press 2 for…” menu, simply mash the hash (#) key on your keypad. This will confuse the system and it will forward your call to their default customer service line, bypassing the impossible computer menu system. You didn’t hear this from me! (Well, you did, but what else can you do?).

Speaking of Abbey branches, today I noticed that our online banking statements don’t match with the recent transactions list when printed from an ATM (different dates on items). Are Abbey caching data, are statements merely guesses (to be revised at a later date) or has this upgrade introduced a new disparate system with different views on the same data? I reckon it’s the latter, but I do hope Abbey sort themselves out sooner rather than later.

Is more passwords more secure?…

images In a statement to the BBC, Abbey said: “As part of the upgrade, our active online customers have been required to register again to gain access to their secure internet site.”. This brings me to something of interest to anyone interested in software security. Previously to log into Abbey I had a username, password and a selection of answers to security questions.

Abbey now require you to memorise; your debit card number or long username, a ten digit unique number, an alphanumeric strong password and a numeric password. I bet a lot of people who previously remembered their details are going to start writing them down and that theft of online banking details is going to go up. Also key loggers are going to have an easier time as the order in which the security challenges appear is static and doesn’t change, so it’s now much easier for malware to capture all the details to access your accounts in only one sweep.

Speaking of security…

We don’t like Firefox 3. Use Firefox 2 or Internet Explorer instead.

Yes, that’s right. If you use the latest version of FireFox (3), you’ll be asked to upgrade your web browser with a link to www.getfirefox.com. Hmm. That link is for Firefox 3. So I tried Firefox 2. Oh, that works. Firefox 3 fixes lots of security holes in Firefox 2. Thanks Abbey!

I also headed on over to www.anbusiness.com with Internet Explorer. I got a whole heap of SSL certificate errors (the SSL certificate is invalid). This is not very reassuring on a banking website!

So, let me get this straight. According to the Abbey/Santander IT department/CTO: Firefox 2 is ok with Abbey. Internet Explorer is ok, but it catches the SSL security fail. Firefox 3 is too old and Abbey need to you upgrade to Firefox 2.

Do you need to contact Abbey?

I’ve gone through a lot of pain to get these details. Hopefully they’ll be of help:

  • RMT Management Team (Abbey Business Support): [email protected] (don’t email them if you need specific help, they probably can’t do anything actually useful for you)
  • Abbey Business Banking Complaints: [email protected]
  • Tel: 0800 056 5151 (not checked – taken from another poster on theregister.co.uk)
  • Tel: 01908 237 968 (Abbey Business – cheaper than 0845 or 0870)

Who do you bank with and why?

That’s enough from me. It’s over to you, dear reader. Who do you bank with and why?

Sources and further reading:

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • James 14th December 2008, 11:03 pm

    Still not working. I know two others who bank with Abbey and those two can’t transfer funds between accounts either. I don’t believe it just so happens that the only other people I know who bank with Abbey are part of a small minority effected. This is a major issue effecting god knows how many and it’s dragging on… They told me it would be resolved in two days. This incompetent shambolic bank may be free but this latest cock-up has just about convinced me I need to move.

  • mike 14th December 2008, 11:08 pm

    Hi James,

    Thanks for your comment. I’ve been having troubles with Abbey for a week now. I’ve submitted a formal complaint (see email in post above) and Abbey have at least acknowledged the complaint by post.

    It wasn’t until my wife said tonight, “Surely you’re not the only one” that I thought to check the news sites, forums and blogosphere for messages from other hopeful Abbey customers. Lo and behold it was all laid bare, it’s not just me. And I’m so glad that I made a transfer out of savings before the “crash”.

    I found something odd on the BBC link I posted. There’s an apology from Abbey which tries to play this rather prolonged systems failure down. The problems are so general in nature (can’t access more than one account, can’t log in, view other company’s bank accounts, making a transfer or bill payment, error messages, etc) that I can’t believe this is just “a few” for a second.

  • mike 14th December 2008, 11:13 pm

    Have a look at this post by the Telegraph’s Richard Tyler, here: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/richard_tyler/blog/2008/12/11/abbey_business_banking_cock_up__insider_reveals_latest

    Some very interesting information on Abbey apparantley misleading customers and yet promising that no-one will be financially impacted by this. This is great news, where can I send my invoice?

    There’s also some comments from an Abbey whistleblower who says, “Yesterday morning we were told there was 700 people in the queue and we needed to help, sheets of paper were thrown at us and we were told we had five minutes to read these then we had to take the calls from the poor customers.”

    “Curiouser and curiouser!”, said Alice…..

  • Jaffa 16th December 2008, 12:31 pm


    Its got to be asked. If you are having so many problems with Abbey, why not move to another Bank. I am with natwest, and ok, I have to pay business banking fees (which cost me around £16 a month), but I can go into the branch in town and upstairs is their maned business centre, I have the direct email address, mobile number and home phone number of my business manager (who I have had since day 1), and I have never had any problems with the account.

  • mike 16th December 2008, 12:48 pm

    Hi Jaffa,

    I’m considering moving to another bank. Although to be honest, Abbey have been very good up to this point. Their old online banking system, while not bells and whistles, was very reliable and worked well. I do have contacts at Abbey, but they’ve all stopped answering their phones and their voicemails are full (and as of today: email is returned with a 500 permission denied error).

    I moved my business to Abbey this summer (and currently in the process of moving another business to Abbey), having migrated from Lloyds TSB (business) who I was with for five years. Our charges were around £20/25 per month, and the logic was to cut costs by ~£300/year (over five years that’s about £1.5k – not too shabby).

    The trouble with Abbey is not just the way in which they’ve handled the upgrades, but also the customer support. This post is intended as a highlight of their technical incompetance and customer service failure. (Incidentally, I get around 200 hits/day on this article alone).

    As I write this, Abbey still have the same problems and are still recommending that I upgrade FireFox to the old version 2 (their tech support link goes to the version 3 download), or Internet Explorer. Apparantly, the only thing they’ve managed to fix was to spend £100 or so and get themselves an in-date SSL certificate.

    I’m not feeling the love from Abbey at the moment, and from a purely technical perspective I can’t imagine how they could have performed this migration worse….

    I also wonder why they don’t hire themselves a few good, honest contractors to come in and sort the mess out 🙂

  • Scott Kane 17th December 2008, 11:14 am

    I was going to make a joke about “bean error not found within scope”, but I concluded your sense of humour might be worn out today… 🙁

    Sorry to hear about this Mike. Banks can be a PITA.

    On my account we have an eight digit code, a pasword or pin and a little electronic gizmo that generates a six digit code randomly within a “range” for that account. Would seem to be a better system – as long as you don’t drop your gizmo into your cofee – I experienced that and the gizmo does not like it… 😉

  • mike 17th December 2008, 1:21 pm

    Hi Scott,

    You know those little gizmos are a great idea. I’ve heard you can even get one for your PayPal account. Anything but remembering a whole heap of information…

    Hopefully they’ll get it all sorted before Christmas.

  • John 18th December 2008, 12:13 am

    Hey guys!

    Are you still having problems? I am – when I try to log in I’m told that I don’t have any accounts associated with this log in name. This is odd as when I first created a new login etc I actually managed to access the system fine. It was just the next day that it all went wrong.

    I don’t really want to call customer ‘services’ as I don’t want to be in a queue for an hour only to be told that there is a problem and it’s being looked at and we apologise for the inconvenience etc, etc . . .

    My application form to a different bank is already in the post. I called the Co-Operative Bank and set the wheels in motion – as I’m a member of the FSB it looks like an excellent deal as there are concessions. When I called them the phone was answered on the fourth ring and a human (yes! A human!!) spoke to me. I didn’t have to press any numbers on the keypad, and I didn’t have to wait whilst being told that my call was important, I just spoke to a guy on the phone who basically managed to do everything I wanted without needing to transfer me to another department and all that!

    So far with Abbey I’m completely stuck. I can’t bank on-line, I can’t bank via telephone banking as the queues are too big and I can’t get through, and I can’t even use the counter at my local Abbey branch. My money is just sitting there and I simply can’t reach it. This is inexcusable. I’ll now wait until my account at my new bank is open, transfer all the cash in there, let the new bank sort out all the direct debits in their account transfer package and then start the new year fresh.

    Hopefully it will all be resolved soon! Thanks for the post Mike, you’ve written down what a lot of people are thinking!!

  • mike 18th December 2008, 1:27 am

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your informative post.

    Yes, I’m still having problems. And everyone I speak to who uses Abbey is also having problems. Your comment expresses the dilemma well, the only option any of us business customers has is to use phone banking and wait in the huge queues. Last time I called there were apparantly 600 people in the queue ahead of me, and that’s why it took 30 minutes to get to speak to a person.

    I haven’t left Abbey yet, but I’ll have a look in the new year. The Co-operative looks good, but it will be interesting to see what the other banks can offer for the exodus of (ex)Abbey customers!

  • John 18th December 2008, 6:30 pm

    Finally found a solution! It’s very easy!

    I get into my car and drive to my local Abbey branch at the Metro Centre in Gateshead. I spend twenty minutes looking for a parking space and then another 10 minutes walking to the bank. I go to the bank’s ATM machine and transfer some funds and pay some bills. I get back into my car and drive home.

    The whole episode takes around an hour. This is still far quicker than calling customer services and doing it all over the phone!!

  • mike 30th December 2008, 12:42 pm

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the tip! I just tried the same thing and it worked, you can move money between accounts at the ATM. I wish Abbey business banking people could have told me that earlier. I tried today to move money online and it’s no surprise that it doesn’t work either.

    I applied for a new Abbey accounts for another of my businesses earlier this month and (some) of the documentation has only just come through. Much of the information is wrong and I wish I’d just used a different bank.

    Time to shop for a new bank in the new year I think!

  • Tom Kinnaird 1st February 2009, 4:12 pm

    Hello Mike,

    I have to say I’ve been happy up until now. The tax bill was due in yesterday and when I went online to pay it, my card was declined. I quickly called up the Abbey to hear that due to a technical fault, no card transactions were being authorised! That’s not right is it? To make matters worse, the business support team finish at 1pm on Saturday and the domestic support just refuse to talk to business customers. I tried again to make the payment this morning and it’s still out of order. Maybe the abbey can’t afford to lose all that dosh in one day. I bet I’m not the only one trying to pay the tax man this weekend. But will they be stumping up the £100 late payment penalty they’re costing me and everyone else they’ve let down? We’ll see.

  • Sandra Hodges 24th August 2009, 9:49 am

    My partner and i have a joint account with Natwest and every month we deposit a fixed amount in this account from our respective bank accounts. He banks with HSBC and money transferred appears in the joint account almost immediately whereas my transfer from the Abbey on-line takes up to four days. It appears that only Abbey on-line transfers take this long as I occasionally transfer money from my Barclays savings account and again, it seems to take no time at all to appear in the joint account. Anybody else finds this a problem??

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