It seems that not a day goes by without a bank screwing up some IT system or other. 

We have seen failed batch payments quickly cause a ripple of problems that take weeks and sometimes longer to fix, we also see numerous times where bank X "apologises that a small number of customers are having problems accessing their accounts..." and the fact they always say that a small number or even more ambiguously, a "subset" of our users, just reinforces the fact that they can't even admit to their massive lack of being able to run IT system of this complexity.

Firstly, many, many people use digital services for banking. We have had chaps and bacs for years and now these are built into many accounting tools but we have mobile apps and online banking, with all of the quality requirements of banks, these are business-as-usual and need to be run accordingly.

Secondly, this will only get more important over time. No-one honestly expects any pullback from digital services and a return to High Street banking so this needs to be fixed but I think the problem is that Banks consider themselves as banks first and then as people who manage IT second. The truth is that IT has been at the front of most businesses for 20 years now and needs to be treated like a first-class citizen but more importantly, which is given top priority. You break the system and at best you stop your organisation working in the office for a few hours, at worst, you screw over millions of customers and expose your bank to millions in costs and compensation.

To be fair to banks, they have a very hard task. They don't struggle purely because they are large and have a lot of customers, they struggle because many of them have 10s of different public-facing systems, sometimes more. Every time a bank buys another bank, they inherit another system - probably bespoke and due to their rigid mindset, they are almost completely incapable of migrating e.g. mortgages from the old system to the new one. Why not, for example, send a letter to customers telling them they are giving them £200 to migrate their mortgages to a new system and the money is an apology in advance if anything goes wrong. Probably, worst-case, a few calculations might go awry (they might have been wrong in the old system) but in addition to the hush money, you would also compensate the customer for any mistakes. Most people wouldn't notice or care but the bank has one less system to maintain.

On the other hand, banks have decided to do what they do and if they buy another bank, the existing systems have to be part of the risk assessment, they can't simply argue that it's hard. An airline pilot can't crash a plane and justify it because "it's hard", they get paid to be able to fly.

I think, from limited experience I will admit, that many banks are fundamentally positioned wrong. They treat IT like a commodity that can be moved around, outsourced, managed reactively and largely left-alone where possible when it should be treated like a first-class product. Boeing don't decide to just change a flight computer or get someone else to make a wing without lots of checks, assessments etc. because the risk is obvious for mistakes. Even in a SaaS business, if it is your main product, you don't just leave things to go wrong, you have to treat the software like a pet, even if your hosting is like cattle. You have to keep an eye on performance, identify hotspots, pro-actively identify places where failure could occur and refactor them.

Which then brings us to the question of management and maintenance. Banks need experienced SaaS managers in software, not corporate ones. You can't wait for 2 months to make a change, you need to be able to get things changed, tested and approved much more quickly. I worked somewhere once that had a February 29th bug but due to the nature of the system, we couldn't get a fix deployed to the Bank that was using it quickly enough to make it worthwhile, they had to accept they couldn't accept mortgage applications for the entire day!

Of course, there is a problem with legacy applications but it is an issue for everyone. There are many ways to port legacy applications to a new scalable and deployable architecture without having to change too much. As I said, however, this doesn't hold for ancient systems that honestly they need to migrate away from and bin them. I realised that banks are obsessive about pennies, even in a 200K mortgage, and this might be related to the various Regulators but ultimately, they could easily migrate things mnually, check them, add a one-off payment just to make up the difference if the old system was wrong and then use the new system.

Banks, you need to learn from SaaS businesses, stop promoting and employing corporate IT managers who simply won't be able to keep your bank up-to-date, especially with the habits of corporate ladder climbing and then moving to another position!