The RBS Group – united in crisis? Part One: NatWest

By Dominic Cockram

It is now over a month since we first heard of a ‘technical glitch’ affecting the RBS Group, which left many NatWest and Ulster Bank customers’ unable to access funds as payments were not processed. The technical problem was caused by a corrupted overnight software update on the RBS systems which affected all of the Group’s banks.

While this began as one shared crisis, it has developed very differently for NatWest and Ulster Bank: the problems at NatWest may be an increasingly distant memory for some, but those with Ulster Bank are still experiencing problems with payments and have only just received information on how to claim compensation.

The crisis communications’ responses from the two banks were equally divergent. After a slightly slow start (the first official Tweet about the technical failure was at 7:43am 21st June) NatWest went all-guns blazing to get their message out, sending text messages to all customers, and releasing a video of Susan Allen, Director of Customer Services, apologising and providing reassurances to those affected by the problems. As the crisis escalated, they began to engage actively with customers via social media, answering questions and complaints directly. They managed to keep the media on-side, and major news outlets provided reliable and helpful information for customers, and angry readers’ stories were countered with items on helpful NatWest staff. This crisis response of pro-active, confident and extensive communications, in conjunction with extended opening hours, additional call centre staff and compensation plans seems to have placated many, and even at the height of the problems, there were those singing the praises of the NatWest staff:

NatWest seemed to abide by the rules of successful crisis communications: showing genuine concern, empathy for customers and regret for the problems caused. From the outset, they assured that customers would not be left “out of pocket”, and worked to quickly rectify the initial problem, keeping customers informed of progress along the way.


No crisis response will ever be uncriticised, and NatWest certainly suffered its fair share of negative buzz around their technical failures. However, just one month following the crisis, ‘business-as-usual’ has resumed, with services running smoothly and advertising campaigns have returned. What is more, the heightened media and public attention caused by the crisis means that they now surpass all competitors in engagement with social media. With news that NatWest are extending opening hours in 50 London branches during the Olympic period, it looks like they have not only responded effectively to the crisis, but learnt from it and are looking to implement these lessons at other times.

Only time will tell whether NatWest has been truly able to turn this recent crisis into a positive opportunity to increase trust, customer engagement and marketing reach, but it looks like they are off to a good start.

Stay tuned for our analysis of Ulster Bank’s crisis response, in part two of The RBS Group – united in crisis?

About Dominic Cockram

Founder and MD of Steelhenge. Pioneer of simulation exercises with over 20 years experience in business continuity and crisis management. Dominic is an experienced speaker determined to make the world a more resilient place.

One thought on “The RBS Group – united in crisis? Part One: NatWest

  1. Pingback: Crisis Lesson #3 – Communication Integration | Crisis Management

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