Technology: When it’s working well, we love the convenience it can offer us, but it can also bring life to a standstill when a technical issue causes a freeze on your finances.
Customers of Commonwealth Bank (CBA) would know that well, having recently experienced a 12-hour outage that saw millions of people unable to transfer or receive money, while some had to wait several days for funds to clear.
@CommBank Urgently need to get money out and I am unable to. No cash, no nothing. Now I’m starving. Disappointed on such a humid day 😰Surely we deserve more than an apology. Time spent on this inconvenience is time I cannot get back. Robbing me of the most valuable currency ⏰
— Philip Juan Sillah Jr. (@JuanSillah) October 17, 2019
It’s not the only bank to have raised customers’ hackles over network failures, with National Australia Bank experiencing two outages within a week earlier this year.
Statistics released by the Payment System Board last Thursday – on the same day as CBA’s blackout – showed the frequency and number of outages had increased overall in the past year.
Australian Payments Network CEO Andy White told Canstar that participants in the payments system see reducing operational problems as a “priority”.
“Operational outages are relatively rare, but when they do happen they can be inconvenient and frustrating for customers,” Mr White said.
“We’re working to improve the actual incident data’s consistency by focusing it on customer impact, and to agree and implement a framework for disclosing such data.”
He said customers could be reassured by the widespread availability of ATMs and point-of-sale devices such as EFTPOS facilities, most of which have cash withdrawal options, to access their funds at any time.
Canstar money expert Effie Zahos said consumers needed to take matters into their own hands if a financial institution couldn’t ensure their software services were reliable.
“For some of us a bank outage is just an inconvenience, for others wanting to pay bills or settle on purchases, an outage can turn into a financial nightmare,” Ms Zahos said.
“If your bank continues to have software glitches then maybe the best thing you can do is pack up your accounts and give your business to somebody who has a better track record.”
Ms Zahos said for customers worried about how to survive a bank outage in the future, there are a few steps they could take.
Tips on how to survive a bank outage in Australia
1. Contact your creditors
First things first, contact your creditors to let them know your situation if you have any bills due. Whether it’s your phone, electricity or gas bill, the provider may be able to give you some wiggle room on the bill’s due date, or waive any late fees.
If you are still charged late fees, keep a record of those (see the next step).
2. Keep calm and keep a record
If you notice late fees or interest charges stacking up as a result of not being able to access your bank account during a network outage, Ms Zahos’ advice is to stay calm. She said chances are your bank should be coughing up to cover these costs.
“You want to be able to claim these costs back from your bank when things get up and running again,” she said.
CBA promised to refund any customers who incurred fees and charges associated with its network issue last Thursday, and has so far credited $50 to about 150,000 customers with the description saying “Sorry from CBA”.
3. Get thrifty with payment options
Did you know you can buy groceries with PayPal online? Woolies and Coles accept the money transfer service as a form of payment now, so Ms Zahos suggests this could be worth considering as a backup if you can’t use your credit or debit card or access online banking.
Alternative payment options like PayPal typically allow you to keep an account balance without having to withdraw any funds from your bank account.
4. Spread your (bank) love
Opening up an emergency fund with another bank could be a good option to help ensure you always have some money on hand, just in case your primary bank suffers an outage.
“If there’s one thing to be learnt from bank outages is that it pays to spread your love,” Ms Zahos said.
“An emergency account with a debit Visa or Mastercard connected to it – and no fees of course – that’s separate from your main account means you’re never at the mercy of just one payment provider.”
Image source: Vesna cvorovic (Shutterstock)