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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Botched Internet Upgrade Puts Bank of America In Hot Water

This story first appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

A botched technology upgrade was responsible for online banking problems that spilled into a sixth day at Bank of America Corp., inconveniencing customers and handing the biggest U.S. bank by assets fresh image problems.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal late Wednesday, the bank's head of online and mobile banking blamed the glitches on heavy customer traffic amid a continuing effort to upgrade Web capabilities.
The problems hit the most-trafficked U.S. bank website at a time when Bank of America, under pressure from investors because of weak revenue and high expenses, has been promoting Internet banking services in a bid to cut costs. The problems also come on the heels of an unpopular $5 fee the bank unveiled last week on purchases made using debit cards.
Until Wednesday afternoon, the bank hadn't said what was behind the outages, leaving customers exasperated and inconvenienced. At one point the bank urged them to avoid using the website during heavy-usage periods—typically during daylight hours on weekdays.
B of A said the website has had full accessibility since Monday. But the Charlotte, N.C., company warned users in a message on its site Wednesday that pages would be slow to load, and customers have had intermittent trouble accessing online banking services since late last week.
If you're a Bank of America customer and don't like paying a $5 a month for a debit card, you have three options.
A former chief risk officer at Citigroup Inc.'s global transactions-services unit, said clients had called with concerns that Bank of America was under attack.
But he said he has seen no evidence of an attack and called the site's problems shocking because of the bank's strong reputation in information technology. The bank has said it hasn't been hit by attacks from computer hackers who seek to steal customer data, or by denial-of-service attacks that render sites inoperable by flooding computers with communications requests.
BofA shares have dropped 6% over the past week, a period that includes the debit-card fee announcement and the start of the online troubles. That compares with no change in the Keefe, Bruyette & Woods index of big bank stocks, and a drop of less than 1% in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Bank of America shares rose a penny to $5.77 in 4 p.m. New York Stock Exchange composite trading Wednesday.
Some local lenders have said they have seen an uptick in new accounts in recent days. Arizona State Credit Union, for example, has seen a 20% increase in account openings. Many of the new customers have complained about debit-card fees recently announced by Bank of America and Wells Fargo & Co., an executive said, and a few have cited BofA's recent Web outages.
Wells Fargo is testing a $3 monthly fee in five states, though Arizona isn't one of them. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to comment about customer reaction.
For the first time, they are seeing consumers…taking action on feelings they have had for a long time. Some call the new debit-card fees "the straw that broke the camel's back."
To be sure, Bank of America isn't alone among banks in suffering a widespread Internet problems. Customers of J.P. Morgan Chase were hit by service interruptions for about three consecutive days in September 2010, resulting in a backlash for the company, which had provided few details about the disruption.
The New York-based bank ultimately disclosed that the outage occurred because a vendor's database software corrupted the log-in process. It said no customer data was at risk, but the episode forced Chief Executive James Dimon to apologize, and prompted the bank to make whole customers who may have incurred late payment fees because of the site's issues.
Bank of America has recently reshuffled checking-account offerings, including a push to get its customers to use an account that is free as long as the customer doesn't visit a teller. The bank charges $8.95 a month if the customer visits a teller.
A spokeswoman said the bank would work with any customers who accumulated fees on an individual basis amid the website problems.