Can we rely on just one provider?

Originally posted on Billing Views.

Yesterday as I was thinking about the RBS NatWest systems disaster and what it meant for their customers who were financially embarrassed when their cards were declined, I saw that my colleague Alex Leslie had posted an article on the catastrophe. Alex is dead right when he talks about ‘If technology is the infrastructure of the day – we are in trouble’.

I then read RBS CEO Ross McEwan’s comments, who said:

“Last night’s systems failure was unacceptable. Yesterday was a busy shopping day and far too many of our customers were let down, unable to make purchases and withdraw cash.”

“For decades, RBS failed to invest properly in its systems. We need to put our customers’ needs at the centre of all we do. It will take time, but we are investing heavily in building IT systems our customers can rely on.”

So if RBS has failed to invest properly for decades we clearly haven’t seen the last of these problems and customers should assume they will experience more such issues.

Both these pieces got me thinking about the risks of relying on just one provider for essential day-to-day services, be they financial or telecommunications. I’ve never been happy with the idea of relying on one provider because it puts you at the mercy of the vagaries of their service – whether technical failures or perhaps they change their strategy and decide to withdraw service from you.

Despite everything (and to be fair it didn’t affect me) I actually like NatWest. I’ve got a decent banking package from them and their mobile app and online banking is as good as it gets (I’d like more from a bank, as I discussed in my last post but that’s another story!). However would I rely solely on their products – no! I have other providers that spread my risk and, importantly, give me options. Having options when it comes to card payments is vital, especially to avoid being caught out in a NatWest style debacle. Credit cards are a great option for some, especially as they provide greater legal protection in the UK, and for others prepaid cards are excellent (I must declare an interest here as Ukash issues prepaid cards).

Another example is in mobile communications. Twenty or so years after the launch of GSM we still suffer from poor coverage and limited capacity. At peak times in London Bridge mainline station it’s impossible to get a data connection on O2 and in the surrounding area my handset spends more time on GPRS than 3G. And where I live? No O2 3G despite being close to the M25. Relying on one mobile device is a risk although with iPads and the like many people do have a second device, even if it’s not a phone. Just make sure they’re on different networks!

So despite the advances in technology (and perhaps because these advances raise our expectations) we still can’t rely with any certainty on the organisations that provide these services. So make sure you’re protected – now!

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