The RBS Group – united in crisis? Part Two: Ulster Bank

By Dominic Cockram

The technical ‘glitch’ that affected all RBS Group banks following a corrupted systems update on the 19th June became a full-blown crisis for Ulster Bank in Ireland, with ramifications still being felt by some customers over a month later.

Last week we looked at how NatWest handled their crisis communications in response to this same problem and concluded they did pretty well. So how did their ‘sister’ Ulster Bank fair?

While on 20th July, NatWest reinstated their advertising, marking a return to ‘business as usual’, Ulster Bank customers, were still awaiting details of compensation, and some seemed to be experiencing new problems. Even now, it does not seem clear where the original failure lies, or why it took Ulster Bank so much longer to rectify the problem than NatWest, who were hit by exactly the same issue, but resolved the technical fault just 4 days after it surfaced. Ulster Bank customers, in contrast, were told that “services should begin to return to normal from Monday 16th July” – almost a month after the ‘glitch’ appeared.

So their crisis resolution lagged weeks behind that of NatWest – but how did their crisis communications compare? Not well. In fact, they even committed the cardinal sin of crisis communications – responding to journalists’ enquiries with “no comment”. It was reported on 12th July that Ulster Bank “refuses to say if directors are on holiday”, and a tweet from BBC’s Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson confirms Ulster Bank’s reluctance to engage with the media. Their lack of voice meant that rumours began circulating and the bank’s directors were blamed, leading to Jim Beam’s decision to forego his annual bonus.

Ulster Bank’s pro-active communications fared slightly better, although these still were far too slow, and do not match the engagement or clarity of NatWest’s social media response and web updates. After an exceptionally slow start, Ulster Bank’s twitter ‘helpdesk’ was well used(direct replies didn’t start until 6th July), engaging directly with customers and putting out official updates with links to the website. The Help Point section of the Northern Ireland and ROI Ulster Bank websites have sound clips of Branch Banking Directors reading a statement of apology – a poor imitation of NatWest’s video. The CEO’s only presence is through a ‘Customer letter from Jim Beam’, in which the official media statement is repeated directly.

In the days of social media, customers expect a personal, human response even from large corporate entities; this is where NatWest really excelled, and where Ulster Bank really let the crisis get the better of them. Despite the long delays in fixing the problem, if communications channels had remained clear and open, with a visible and reassuring spokesperson leading the communications response, the levels of frustration and anger that they must now face could have been abated.

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 Two: Ulster Bank

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

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