Bank of Ireland Double Charging

I read with interest a story on the Irish Times website this morning about Bank of Ireland double charging customers for Laser transactions in “recent days”. What interested me is that this was not something that happened in “recent days”. Far from it.

Back in May 2009, Simon over on reported this problem to Bank of Ireland and blogged about his customer service experience. On foot of what Simon had written, I emailed Bank of Ireland to try and get details on the issue before I wrote it up over at

The response I received from Bank of Ireland on the 4th of June was:

When BoI receives an authorisation request from a retailer, a ‘hold’ is placed on those funds until the actual transaction is presented for payment. The transaction is posted to the customer’s account on receipt from the retailer.

Relative to the number of transactions processed there are a very small number of instances where a transaction may appear twice. For example these may occur if the retailer inputted the wrong amount and then re-input the correct amount or the transaction is sent in error twice for authorisation. These types of transactions are not errors or a system issue created by the Bank. The Bank receives an authorisation request and subsequently places a hold on those funds. These types of transactions are not unique to Bank of Ireland.

Bank of Ireland responds to all customer queries raised in connection with above.

(I have the name and contact details of the Bank of Ireland Press Office person who sent me that response).

So. Basically the response in June was “those kind of things happen. They happen in all banks. If customers complain to us we sort it out on a case by case basis”.

These are the questions I submitted to BoI in June. The quote above was the response I received to these detailed questions.

Fast forward to today. Today, the bank is telling the media that in “recent days” there was a “technical error”. I’m as baffled by the Bank by this, but for different reasons.

  • The first question I put to the bank in June was “When did you become aware of  ‘double dipping’ of customer accounts?”.  The answer is not “in recent days” or “over the weekend” (as the Bank spokesperson told the Irish Times today) and is more correctly “at least since June”.
  • In May, Simon had been advised that the cause of the problem was a software upgrade. In June I asked the Bank
    • We have been informed that this issue was triggered by the deployment of new software. Is this the case?” AND
    • If it is the case that a new software deployment has caused the problem, is it not possible to ‘roll back’ to the previous version of the software until the software bug can be resolved?” AND
    • Do you feel that sufficient care was taken to ensure the software was fully tested against ‘real-world’ operation scenarios before being deployed to prevent this type of duplication of transaction? For example, was the software tested to see what would happen in common usage scenarios such as leaving a tip, having multiple transactions in succession in one store (perhaps at one Laser terminal), or retailers resorting to ‘old’ processes out of habit?”
    • In June the Bank did not address these points.

In June, Bank of Ireland was explicit in its identification of the root cause for this type of error.

…there are a very small number of instances where a transaction may appear twice. For example these may occur if the retailer inputted the wrong amount and then re-input the correct amount or the transaction is sent in error twice for authorisation.

In today’s Irish Times they are less certain

A spokeswoman for the bank said that she was unable to say how customers had been affected by the error, but that she believed that the customers affected were from across the State and not from one particular area.

The good news from today’s Irish Times report is that I’ve finally gotten an answer to one of my questions, which was:

Does Bank of Ireland have the capability to identify any “shadow transactions” raised against customer accounts in error independent of any action by the customer? If yes, how will the Bank inform customers of these errors?

It would seem that they have, at least since this past weekend, and their method for notifiying customers is a report to the Irish Tmes.

So, what does this mean for Bank of Ireland (from an Information Quality perspective)?

It would suggest that there are weaknesses in their “Quality Culture” and Customer Focus.

The response to a report of overcharging by the bank (and potentially significant overcharging at that) was summarily dismissed and was being handled on a case by case basis. It would seem from the reports (and I worked in Compliance long enough to know that what is in the paper isn’t necessarily the whole story, so I’ll admit this may be a stretch) that the issue was only taken seriously when it was “spotted” by BOI staffers over the weekend.

Of course, it may well be that the surprise find over the weekend was the result of a long period of investigation and analysis within the Bank by a crack team of information quality specialists (even if they are not called that). If so, they should be given credit for their diligent work, not airbrushed from the story like so many other “special forces”.

It means the time span they need to look at for remedying the over charging may be a lot longer than they think

If the Bank is looking just at transactions over a period spanning a few days either side of last weekend, then they are potentially missing customers who have been overcharged through their error. Bear in mind that this issue was first brought to the Bank’s attention in May 2009. It is now September.

That is a 4 month window. How many Laser transactions do Bank of Ireland process per day? Tens of thousands? Times 120 days (approximately)?

It suggests that their Customer care and Media responses to reports of overcharging need to become more, well… Customer and Quality focussed.

Simon was effectively dismissed by BoI when he tried to flag the issue. They were handling things on a case by case basis. I was effectively dismissed by BoI. Yes, I got a response, but the response didn’t address any of the questions I actually raised. The response simply repeated the line Simon had been given.

The story in the Irish Times reads to me like a truthful and well meant attempt to explain the situation that actually highlights the failure of Bank of Ireland to have in place sufficiently adequate processes to deal with reports of Information Quality problems from their customers which resulted in Simon’s complaint and my subsequent queries not triggering any sort of alarm bells.

The alternative (that it is a fabrication put together to spin the story as positively as possible for the Bank) is unthinkable, surely.

And the other alternative is that maybe they did but it just took 4 months to get to the bottom of the issue.  I have worked on projects like that. Sometimes the problems are hard and take time to figure out. But the timescale the Bank quotes for the error suggests that this is not the case.

By the way….

Bloggers had this story 4 months ago.

4 thoughts on “Bank of Ireland Double Charging”

    1. Fair enough. You’re entitled to your opinion. I’d be happier though if you’d engage in meaningful discussion and correct any errors I may have made.

      If I am, as you claim, an idiot, please educate me so I can change my ways 😉

      If you are one of the BOI team who found this error over the past weekend and have (as the Daily Mail tells us) cracked the root cause, as a BOI customer I’d like to buy you a beer for your efforts. Having spent over a decade working on complex compliance and information quality projects I know how tough and under appreciated the work can be.

      I suspect you are a BOI employee because it only took me about 30 seconds to trace the IP address that was logged when you posted your lovely comment to a block of IP addresses assigned to Bank of Ireland.

  1. Hi, I’ve just read your blog with great interest, came across it by accident while doing preliminary research on google. We have just been given a Media Log project to do for the next two months and our chosen topic is BOI.
    I was wondering if you would object to me using your blog as one of the media we will follow during the next couple of months?
    If you could email me and let me know I would be extremely grateful!
    Kind Regards

  2. Pingback: Laser-like accuracy | The DOBlog

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