+ Point of view

TSB, Transferwise and the power of PR

Written by Charles Parant

You know it’s bad when the government has to step in. Just imagine the UK Government has pointed out to everyone the mess you’ve made; you’ve lost £150 million in a failed IT project and 1.9 million of your customers can’t get access to their hard-earned money. Ouch.

TSB, one of the biggest challenger banks, recently had an IT disaster involving nearly two million customers, locking some out of their accounts and giving others access to the pension funds belonging to other customers. But why? Simply, TSB rushed the transfer of its activities from its Lloyds hosted platform to a new one and this resulted in an IT meltdown.

Elsewhere in the world, Transferwise, the money exchange app with an estimated 1 million users was recently hit by a major technical glitch. On 2nd April, all of the app’s users were unable to set up new payments, rendering the service totally unusable.
The response from the two companies to a somewhat similar problem was very different. TSB had its  CEO, Paul Pester, provide commentary long after the customers were affected. Mr Pester, took the strategy of minimizing  the facts and addressed MPs without full knowledge of the scope of the disaster, essentially making an already very public matter, even worse.

By promptly solved, and quite soon it was business as usual for Transferwise. ontrast, Transferwise answered customer concerns very quickly via Twitter’s direct message service. The CTO clearly explained the reasons behind the glitch, and reassured customers a firm process was in place to overcome the technical issue. The consumers questions were promptly answered without any phishing incidents and the issue was

If the contrast between the two responses isn’t clear enough yet, just take a look at the negative coverage in the press for both companies. TSB’s negative press coverage featured  in all UK national newspapers from April to July 2018, whereas Transferwise suffered a couple of articles mentioning the problem.
Sure, Transferwise’s problem was easier to fix, but it still involved not only the money of its customers but also large and important transactions and was no less serious than TSBs issue. Still, efficient communication managed to “kill the story” quickly and preserve the brand’s image of the “Robin Hood of payments”.
IT teams are under tremendous pressure from Management to deliver increasingly complex projects to very challenging deadlines. Consumers want everything at their fingertips now. However, while the delivery processes of IT projects need to change, and board-level executives need to be more IT-savvy, the way we communicate on these issues needs to change as well.

There is a serious PR lesson here. We can all benefit from it. Organisations have specific and steadfast SLAs with their customers – letting them down to this magnitude requires a deft and honest response. Turning up to speak with MPs about a serious data breach, unprepared, is no less than arrogant. Especially after a period of marked silence. In a world of citizen journalism and information passing between people faster than ever, we have to be much smarter about the way we communicate business issues to the wider market.

Nero, the Roman Emperor, was famous for singing and playing the lyre while Rome, the capital of his Empire, was burning. He is still famous for it 2,000 years later, showing people don’t forget the lack of proper care, attention and involvement in times of crisis. History might have proven Nero was not responsible for the fire, but his lack of communication wrote a story that will paint him in a negative light for ages. Don’t be Nero Mr Pester.