Hardware failure gets blame for weekend ABM glitch

Kirsten Amin was just trying to keep warm on Saturday, but her bank got in the way. When Amin, a 25-year old Toronto school teacher, tried to buy gloves and a hat to prepare for the cooler weather, her Toronto Dominion Canada Trust debit card was denied at the ABM machine at the Yorkdale shopping centre.

“I just have a chequing account there and I went to a normal ABM machine and I tried it twice and I knew I had money in there but I kept getting a transaction cannot be processed message,” she said. “I was going to buy hats and mitts and gloves because it is getting cold.”

Amin, who wasn’t carrying any other methods of payment, was forced to go home instead of going to the mall.

“It was a real inconvenience,” she said.

Amin was not alone in her shopping woes on Saturday. Countless other Toronto Dominion Canada Trust customers could not use the bank’s services for about 11 hours on the busiest shopping day of the week, a problem which a TD Canada Trust spokesperson said was “enormously frustration and understandably so.”

“It was about 11 a.m. on Saturday when, it was physical component, I am told it was some sort of memory board, it failed,” Jeff Keay, spokesperson for TD Canada Trust, said. “As a result, pretty much the whole system was disrupted. The bank machine network, the Internet banking, and telephone banking and I think the debit card stuff was pretty much intermittent.”

He said there is no way for him to quantify the amount of customers who were inconvenienced on Saturday, but did say that TD Canada Trust has about 10 million customers in total.

“Everything was stabilized and up and running by 10 p.m. Saturday and some of the stuff was operational before that,” he said. “We are working to get the backlog cleared away which is virtually cleared up now.”

Alex Ferworn, a computer science professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, said the systems TD is running are supposed to be redundant, meaning if one system fails it can fall over onto the next to guarantee service.

“If one board fails, the other is supposed to take over for it, but I don’t know how that would have failed,” Ferworn, who also tried – and failed – to shop with his TD card Saturday, said. “The big issue is that you guys are trying to promote a cashless society and I didn’t have any cash. What is your backup plan?”

Ferworn explained that, because banks are involved in central transactions, there are numerous possible points of failure. He continued that smart cards, cards that have a “purse” on them so that consumers can do transactions without having to rely on a central database, would be much more reliable. However, he concluded, the cards would more expensive to the bank and therefore would likely not be adopted anytime soon.

“The cash would be on the card itself,” he said. “Why are we still dealing with these transactions that go back to an office? I have cash in my pocket and if I lose a dollar, that’s my problem. But I didn’t lose the dollar because (TD) kept the dollar so safe that I couldn’t access it.”

This is not the first problem TD has encountered with its automatic banking systems. Last fall the TD system in many Wal-Marts across the country charged customers twice and three times for purchases. It took the store and the bank several weeks to reimburse the approximately 25,000 customers affected.

“You are being charged for the privilege of accessing your cash and you are paying for a service that you didn’t get on Saturday so what is the bank going to do about it,” Ferworn said. “A nice rebate would be good. I don’t care what went wrong. TD said it could provide the service and it failed to provide the service so, normally, that is breach of contract.”

Toronto Dominion Canada Trust in Toronto is at http://www.td.com. Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto is at http://www.ryerson.ca.

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