Epsom Ladies day, 1stJune was extra scary this year. The usual scrummage of hats and high heels at the bars turned nasty when the Visa credit card system crashed. A lot of ladies were less than impressed and bar staff had to be rescued by security.

It came as an unwelcome wake-up call for many retailers

The problem was Europewide according to Visa which blamed a hardware failure rather than a Russian cyber-attack. The problem was not the Ladies or the Merchant accounts but a Visa computer which fell over and could not send back authorisations. Visa had it sorted by Saturday lunchtime but it came as an unwelcome wake-up call for many retailers. The vast majority of high-value sales are electronic, either in-store or online but few seemed to have an in-store backup plan, apart from cash. Forlorn staff standing outside a store waving ‘Cash only’ placards does not inspire Consumer loyalty. Long delays built up at the Severn Bridge toll and the London Congestion Charge system ground to a halt. It all came as a unpleasant surprise and warning of just how vulnerable Consumers are in a cashless society. My enterprising garage owner rose to the challenge. He dug around in his storeroom and emerged with a big smile and a ‘Click Clack’card voucher machine.

Markets are – somewhat reluctantly – embracing EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer)

Markets are – somewhat reluctantly – embracing EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) i.e. credit and debit cards but they have a long way to go to match mainstream retailers. Visa failure meant queues quickly built up at ATM’s, some of which also failed so if you already take plastic or plan to do so (recommended) this may be the time to consider a backup plan for your hardwired terminal. I was surprised so few High Street retailers could offer an alternative. I-Zettle, Square, Google Pay, Paypal or Apple Pay are all options instead of cash. They could be worth investigating – there are plenty of options at increasingly-competitive rates. Some also incorporate the £30 contactless service.

Where have all the Bank branches gone?

A second problem faced retailers on Monday morning – how to pay the cash into their bank account. Where have all the Bank branches gone? The British Bankers Association says log-ins for online banking have grown to about 9.6 million per day whilst ‘over the counter’ transactions have fallen by 6% in the last year. More than 600 bank branches closed in the UK last year with many small towns in rural areas losing all their banks. Commuter towns have also been affected. Customers are more likely to use branch banking near their place of work whilst at work.

High Street Bank branches have shrunk from about 11,000 to 8,000 over the last 10 years and more closures are expected. Newcomer Metrobank has bucked the trend by opening 40 branches with a further 60 expected by 2020 but they are in conurbations.

Loss of Bank branches is particular problem for rural communities

Loss of Bank branches is particular problem for rural communities as many host a large proportion of home businesses. Basic banking is still available at 11,500 Post Office branches but they’re also downsizing as Postal services move online. To assist, the much-troubled Royal Bank of Scotland has introduced a ‘Bank on Wheels’ for rural areas with some success and ATM manufacturers are developing unattended ‘lobby service’ Mini-banks.

Markets need to widen their services

The Charity Age UK has pointed out how older customers reluctant or unable to go online are suffering. The Federation of Small Businesses is also campaigning on behalf of small businesses and In response HMG has promised additional prior consultation by the end of this year but the writing is on the wall. Small wonder then that Supermarkets have been offering EFT, checkout ‘cashback’, ATM’s and Sub Post Office concessions for years. How many Markets do the same? Markets need to widen their services..

TSB lost some 12,500 customers as a result of an IT systems crash in April

Visa was not the only one with online problems. At least it was not suffering the ‘online assault’ described by TSB Chief Exec. Paul Pester to the Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee. He confirmed TSB had lost some 12,500 customers as a result of an IT systems crash in April. During that month it attempted to transfer 1.3 BILLION customer records from TSB’s previous parent company, Lloyds to it’s new Spanish owners Sabadell. But TSB was ‘overwhelmed’ by fraud attacks during this ‘system migration’ which generated 10,600 fraud alerts, 2,200 attempts at cyberfraud and up to 1,300 TSB customers suffering actual financial loss. Mr Pester and TSB Chairman Richard Meddings could not apologise enough to the 94,000 customers who had lodged complaints. MP’s on the Committee could be seen shifting uneasily in their seats and thanking their lucky stars they didn’t have to clear up the mess.

Sainsbury’s announced it is trialling a new ‘relaxed checkout lane’ in its store at Prestwick for people who suffer from dementia

Meanwhile Sainsburys continue to grab headlines following their proposed Asda merger news. The Supermarket announced it is trialling a new ‘relaxed checkout lane’ in its store at Prestwick for people who suffer from dementia. It’s being run in conjunction with charity ‘Alzheimer’s Scotland’ and bosses hope it can be rolled out across the country. Staff have received extra training to help sufferers and the checkout lane has been de-cluttered, but now with images which represent coins and their value.

Very commendable I’m sure but actually old news. Market stalls have been offering enhanced service to disabled Shoppers for years.

 

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