4:03am Sunday 24th June 2012
© Press Association 2013
NatWest is to open 1,200 branches across the country for the first time ever as the bank clears a massive backlog of payments caused by a computer glitch.
On Saturday, Stephen Hester, chief executive of NatWest owner RBS, issued a public apology for the technical hitch and conceded the bank had let down its customers.
Branches will open their doors between 9am and noon, amid continued anger following days of disruption.
The chaos, caused by a problem with computer software, left many of its clients unable to pay bills or access their money.
Mr Hester attempted to reassure customers following mounting fears that thousands of people could be hit with penalty charges if their regular payments - including mortgages - were affected.
"I am very sorry for the difficulties people are experiencing," he said. "Our customers rely on us day in and day out to get things right, and on this occasion we have let them down. This should not have happened. Right now my top priority, and the priority of the entire RBS Group, is to fix these problems and put things right for our customers. This is taking time, but I want to reassure people that we are working around the clock to resolve these problems as quickly as we are able."
NatWest has more than 7.5 million personal banking customers but it is unclear how many have been affected. The issues extend to users of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Ulster Bank, which like NatWest are part of RBS Group. Ulster Bank said about 100,000 of its customers experienced difficulties.
While the original technical glitch has been fixed, staff are now working through the build-up of transactions which have not been processed.
Double the usual number of employees are manning call centres to tackle the problems, Mr Hester said. "Our staff have already helped thousands of customers to access cash and we will continue to provide this service on a 24-hour basis while we work to resolve the problems," he added. "I also want to reassure customers that no one will be left permanently out of pocket as a result of this, and again, they should contact us directly about this."
The initial problem reportedly arose following an attempt to install a software update on RBS's payment processing system, which was then corrupted. The fault meant payments went awry, wages appeared to go missing and holiday and home purchases were interrupted. When account balances were not updated properly overnight, credit and debit payments failed to show up as quickly as they should.
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