Ben Southwood
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THE REPUTATION of RBS-owned NatWest came in for a hammering yesterday as the bank failed to overcome the systems failures that first emerged last week.

The bank, which is 82 per cent owned by the government, opened 1,300 RBS, Ulster Bank and NatWest branches on a Sunday for the first time in its history as it struggled to get to grips with the massive disruption caused by a failure in its computer systems.

However, those who made it into the branches left disappointed as bank staff were not able to sort out the problems, leaving customers unable to access their accounts or get accurate information about their statements.

Chief executive Stephen Hester apologised on Saturday for the debacle, describing “fixing the problems and putting things right for customers” as his, and the group’s “top priority”.

He said “where customers are facing hardship or difficulty we can and will help them”, and assured account holders that branch staff will be giving customers access to cash.

But his commitment that “no one will be left permanently out of pocket” suggests the fear of legal action from those affected.

Susan Allen, director of customer services for the group, described herself yesterday as “cautiously optimistic that customer account balances will be largely back to normal from tomorrow”.

She solidified some of the vows Hester made, saying “we will automatically waive any overdraft fees or charges on current accounts”, and promised to “work directly with credit agencies to ensure no one has their credit score affected”.

Allen also reiterated the commitment “that customers will not be out of pocket from this issue” and pledged to give full details of how this is to be achieved later in the week.

Nevertheless hundreds of customers have lodged complaints online calling for the removal of Stephen Hester and recompense for time and lost earnings.

Users have also complained of failing to be able to pay bills, rent and even being unable to buy basic goods over the weekend. Many claimed they planned to move banks as soon as their money was accessible again.

Some disgruntled customers linked the problem to previous cost-cutting in the IT department. In September 2010 the group cut 1,000 IT jobs and planned to offshore many of them to India. A spokesperson for RBS last night declined to comment.

Chris Leslie MP, shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, said: “There is a very, very serious question as to why there was no backup system and whether the group has been too heavily focused on its wholesale, investment bank wing, at the expense of its retail banking operations.”

He added: “While customers may have been tolerant of a one or two-day delay, the sheer inconvenience of this disturbance will be a major embarrassment for the RBS group and will require review in parliament.”

Financial watchdog the FSA said it had been “in close dialogue with RBS, Natwest and Ulster Bank since the problems first arose,” and had made it clear to the banks that they expect the problems to be “resolved as swiftly as possible”. It said that its “highest priority” is to “ensure that any difficulty for customers are resolved,” and that it will “keep regularly updated over the weekend and continue to discuss with the banks” in aid of this goal.” It will require a “complete account of the issues.” once the issues are resolved.