South East Asia’s Biggest Bank (By Assets) Just Suffered Its Biggest Outage in Over a Decade

As lenders increasingly nudge their customers toward online services, the frequency and scale of bank outages raises serious questions about the resilience and reliability of those services.

On Oct.1, I reported on NC that banks around the world are suffering big outages, leaving millions of customers in the lurch. In the less than two months that have passed since then just about every high street lender in the UK has suffered an outage to their online banking platform and/or mobile app; Ecuador’s biggest bank has been targeted by hackers, resulting in a four-day suspension of its online services; Mexico’s largest lender has suffered its third nationwide outage of 2021, and the online banking platform of Pakistan’s third largest lender has been taken down by a cyber attack.   

This week was the turn of one of Asia’s largest lenders, Singapore-based DBS, which suffered its worst system outage in 11 years. This is a bank that has won multiple “best bank” awards, from publications such as Euromoney, The Banker, and Global Finance, and is considered a pioneer in embedding digitization across the full range of banking processes and services. 

DBS began suffering disruptions to its website and mobile app services on Tuesday morning. As reports came flooding in from customers that they were unable to access the bank’s mobile app or online platform, the bank released the following message on social media:

“Some of our customers are facing intermittent slowness when accessing our banking services, and we are currently working to resolve this. We apologise for the inconvenience caused during this time, and please try again later.”

Scant Reassurance

Some customers understandably took umbrage with the statement, as there was clearly nothing “intermittent” or “slow” about the disruption; the system for many customers just wasn’t working.

“Slowness implies there is some speed no matter how low,” wrote Facebook user Zhaohan Chua. “It is simply not working. Is DBS into gaslighting their customers now?”

The service outage continued through the day of Tuesday and well into the night. At 2 a.m. Wednesday morning (local time) the bank announced that all digital services had been restored, only to receive a fresh torrent of complaints from customers on social media who were still unable to access their online account or mobile app. This prompted the bank to admit that the “digital banking issue ha[d] recurred.”

An outage of length of time is extremely disruptive given the growing number of users who depend on digital banking transactions and other services. The lender has been at pains to stress that the outage was not the result of a cyber-attack and that customer accounts and data have not been compromised. On Wednesday afternoon, the bank’s country manager, Shee Tse Koon, issued a statement blaming the issue on a problem with “access control servers”, which are used to authenticate usernames, passwords and other identifiers such as biometrics and one-time passwords (OTPs). 

“We identified a problem with our access control servers and this is why many of you have been unable to log in. We have since been working round the clock, together with our third-party engineering providers, to fix the problem and recover our digital banking services. In the meantime, please be assured that your deposits and monies are safe and that you can continue with your banking needs either through our branches or through phone banking.”

The last sentence may not have been overly reassuring given that DBS, like most large lenders in advanced economies, has spent the past decade closing down many of its branches, even in highly populous areas and key business districts.

The bank’s IT issues appear to have persisted into Thursday. “Although customers said they could log in to its digibank online platforms on Thursday morning, many still could not make transactions or view past ones;” reported The Strait Times. By Friday the issues appear to have been resolved.

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