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PNC's glitches highlight industry's growing problem with technology

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A pair of computer system glitches at PNC Bank that temporarily closed branches on Monday and prevented deposits from crediting to customer accounts highlights a growing challenge for consumers and banks as technology becomes more widespread in the nation's financial system.

“Technology glitches, especially as they pertain to our individual finances, are becoming more commonplace, because our reliance on these technologies is constantly increasing,” said Gene Grabowski, executive vice president of Levick, a Washington crisis communications firm. “We're starting to rely on technology (in banking) as much as we have on the automobile” for transportation, Grabowski said.

And as Americans have grown accustomed to occasional breakdowns with cars, “we're going to have to get used to the fact that technology has its own problems,” he said.

Officials with PNC Bank, the nation's seventh-largest, said the problems were not security-related but resulted from separate computer system failures that prevented some applications from working properly.

On Friday, transactions completed by tellers inside PNC branches were not processed normally, resulting in delayed deposits, withdrawals, and loan and credit card payments. The problem was expected to be corrected by Monday night, the bank said on its website.

“This delay only impacts transactions made with a teller in a branch and not transactions made via other means,” the statement read. “We will ensure you are not responsible for any overdraft fees, late fees or interest as a result of this delay.”

Spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said customers were extended credit for cash withdrawals if their deposits were delayed.

On Monday, PNC's computer system went down inside branches, leading a small number of branches to temporarily close, Zwiebel said.

“We have worked through this today, and branches currently are reporting that their systems are operating normally,” she said.

She would not say how many branches were affected or for how long.

Frustrated customers took to social media, such as Twitter, to complain about losing access to deposits and finding branch offices closed.

“The check won't be available until tomorrow. Welcome to the 21st-century Buck Rogers,” a Twitter user named Eden Abrams posted about PNC's processing delay.

Another Twitter user, Simone Bruce, posted about the problems: “My replacement card still hasn't come in the mail and I can't withdraw cash cuz the systems are down.”

Most of the nation's large banks this year took heat from customers when a series of cyberattacks slowed or shut down online banking websites for hours, or even days.

The attacks didn't compromise customers' personal or financial information but frustrated consumers who rely on Internet banking to check account balances and transfer money.

Grabowski said he believes consumers will become more accepting of banking computer glitches, but it's essential that financial institutions openly tell customers what the problems are, that they're being fixed and that customers are protected.

“One thing that PNC has to do is communicate constantly,” he said. “They have to show that they're doing something about it.”

But, he acknowledged, “We're in the phase now where it still surprises people and angers them.”

Alex Nixon is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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