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How serious are Steward Bank system challenges?

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When we wrote about the Steward Bank system upgrade over the weekend, we were skeptical that this upgrade would make the bank’s problems go away. We concluded:

Even as they promise to fix this over the weekend, the problem for Steward is that they have made such promises before and not fulfilled them. Last time for example, in response to some questions we had posed, the bank told us they expected all systems to be fully operational by 25 February. That’s exactly a month ago.

So whether this fix will finally restore the bank, or not, is something only time can tell.

After the upgrade, the first signs were that the problems had indeed finally gone. On Sunday, the day the upgrade was completed, the bank announced a success, assuring customers that all systems were restored:

Yesterday, just a day later, the bank has another announcement. This time it says the upgrade didn’t quite succeed in restoring all services. A key statement in the now much longer update reads (emphasis ours):

We wish to advise that the upgrade process was largely successful with most of our platforms now up and running. However, while there has been a marked improvement in performance, due to the magnitude of this process, we wish to caution and advise our customers that we remain in a review and stabilisation period during which service disruptions might be experienced.

Depending on how you read that, you might be worried. Especially if you’re a customer, but also if you’re an investor in the Econet Wireless Zimbabwe group. Essentially Steward has changed from ‘knowing’ that all systems were restored, to now realising that only ‘most of the platforms were.

The latest statement is worrying in a number of ways. First, the bank is suggesting that it is in a state of doubt and uncertainty. It says most systems are up and running, without saying which ones are up and which ones are down, and if they are critical or not. That the bank thought it important to let customers know suggests some critical components of the systems may still be unstable.

Second, with the latest statement coming only 2 days after another which said everything had been a success, it shows possible confusion internally. A competent technical team would have advised the other teams in the bank accurately that it was premature to announce success. If they did, then this would suggest the PR team went ahead anyway disregarding the advice. If the tech team did not, it would mean they were not honest, or that even they didn’t know that the system still had issues. Neither scenario paints a positive picture and this points to the bank’s problems being much bigger than a failed weekend upgrade.

However it happened internally, the bank certainly felt it needed to share some good news and was eager to do so. So eager that even when they were not completely assured of good news, they shared it anyway.

The third worry is that Steward Bank knew a lot was at stake with this upgrade. The bank had already failed to restore systems when it did another upgrade back in February. One would expect that after a failed earlier upgrade, the bank is clearer about the extent of the problems (and therefore be able to resolve them better) but also more importantly, that they’d know what’s at stake in terms of fixing this. Think of it as them exhausting their second chance in a 3 strikes scenario.

Overall, where we were skeptical over the weekend, we’re now worried.

To be clear, we don’t know what happens from here and we hope Steward gets over this really rough patch as quickly as possible. The bank has been a daring-to-change things kind of bank and such a bank is so needed in any economy, especially in a market radically changed by mobile and the internet which promise a much expanded economy

But in daring to change, you’re also accepting to be part of the majority of such efforts that fail. One of the comments to the weekend article said:

Steward bank made a big blunder yekuita gumba wakumba [without] thinking [what] they are doing to their clients before upgrading their system.

yekuita gumba kumba simply means “…of targeting everyone…” Another comment asked “munoitirei zvinhu kana musingazvigoni”. That’s Shona for “why try to do things that you can’t do?”

Steward Bank has clearly made a lot of people mad. Especially those that bank with them. But I personally wouldn’t question why they are trying to expanding banking to people that previously couldn’t access such services. I would question their methods, yes. But even in questioning, I think the point is for the bank itself (and for other financial inclusion type providers) to learn so that they don’t make the same mistakes going forward.

In fact, because Steward Bank has made some big mistakes, it has learnt a lot it can use to its advantage in future strategy. That’s assuming ofcourse, as in all such case of paying school your fees, that individual egos and the amazing thing called corporate politics, don’t get in the way.

And as my colleague here at the office said when we discussed Steward, with organisations, learning from experiments can only be achieved if the organisation is structured for learning.

Note: an earlier version of this article had the title “Is Steward Bank in trouble”. Later we realised some readers may assume we were asking if the bank might not honour deposits. That is certainly not what we meant, and we have no reason to believe the bank would have such challenges.

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33 thoughts on “How serious are Steward Bank system challenges?

  1. Haiwa vakuba ukaisa marii unoona musina ukawnda pa eastgate zi line racho apa waisa marii yako unenge wakuita kunge waiba kuma econet shops kwacho vari rough

  2. Ma bank e pasi pemuti anonetsa aya musatibirewo steward bank pliz haisi mhosva kuisa marii yedu marii yangu yakashara ndichatoifambira $5 dollars iyoyo kusvika makumbo anyura

  3. I would want to view the issue of business systems challenges as one that exposes the corporate rot. If Steward bank really has a separate test-bed for their system this would not have been happening. The most difficult part of recommending system budget within these corporates is defending a budget for a test bed to improve customer experience as a test bed allows IT personnel to test products and software upgrades/updates on a different environment without affecting the live system.

    Worse still most IT personnel are put under pressure to commission systems without exposing the system to stress tests. The end result is we have live systems with many bugs being operationalized and we suffer many downtimes as operators work to clear the bugs.

  4. You said on your note “That is certainly now what we meant”.I think you meant “That is certainly not what we meant”.

  5. That rapist bank that promises and does not deliver, it makes me sad that the with such a good pr working for it it kind of struggling. hope they come out stronger…..

  6. Remember these are the clowns that run Ownai the successor to Tengai with all the hacking and inadequate servers

  7. What happened to systems testing? Most banks used to have a test system and a live system. Tests would be conducted on the Test system and commissioned once thorough testing is completed and “passed”. Then the live run would commence with scope and room for regression. When you have novices running things, such basic errors become common place. Whoever is running the ICT section needs to be thoroughly vetted, he’s probably asleep on the job.

    1. The most likely thing is that the ICT department is understaffed and under-resourced as far as budget is concerned.

  8. Helll would have to freeze over, the devil would have to be born again, the sun must rise from the west, water my flow upstream, before i step into a Steward Bank. infact, this bank should be treated like some sort of pariah, like it has a highly contagious disease. I WILL NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER PUT MY MONEY IN STEWARD BANK.


    1. Vapopota! I would recommend an NMB Lite account instead. Same conditions better service.

    2. Hakuna zvivindi zvinopfuura kutambira mumabank akaita seSteward Bank. Stayera yeKingdom bank..

      1. The only thing that requires more brass nuts i would say is pulling a Andy Muridzo. That aside, STAY CLEAR OF THIS INSTITUTION.

  9. Their systems are now tangled up you better pray your dollars don’t disappear, or you do a transfer only to discover the money gone to a different account…

  10. Ma systems yacho (rip dehwa), akambo nyorwa ne language dzipi? Pano pama comments pane ma developer hobho anokwanisa kuvabatsira.

    1. C# i think. I once sent a register for mobile banking SMS and received C# code instead. Lots and lots of C# I think the damn thing was leaking.

  11. Hope they have leant from whatever mistakes they have made, this i am sure comes with the numbers they are taking in, there should have been anticipation of the huge rise in transactions due to the signups of new customers.
    But also techzim nesteward bank makaita kurimirana kumuganhu chaiko asi havabadare maadverts kani…..take take yacho ine nyaya, its becoming too aparent u have gripes with them…

    1. Their job is to inform the public. I would have otherwise transacted using this bank. They are correct to raise the red flag.

  12. I have had it with Steward Bank, I’ve rushed to create an account and loved their efficiency to update when deposits where made but that was 5 months ago, this year has just been a nightmare for both the good client and bad one, i’m sure even individuals whom didn’t have any funds in their account found themselves with miracle deposits, but for some of us who actually do go to work and work for the money which is deposited into our accounts from respective companies have had withdrawals of funds which weren’t from the owner of the account, right now I have $3.56 in my account, whereas had more that $100 just yesterday, when I called their toll free line 08088888, and talked to their customer support, they told me to visit the bank for a statement, so ndomisa business kuti ndichipinda muque manje, haaa guys

  13. This can happen in any system upgrade even some of the biggest banks in the world have had close to similar issues during upgrade.
    You can test something in the test system and still experience different issues in the live environment especially when the upgrade involves a lot of data migration and conversion.
    Whats important is how quickly they can resolve the issue as that will determine how competent their IT is.

    1. True, and due to their previous promises, we are thinking twice about depending on them.

    2. If you get different results in your live system from your test system then the integrity of your test system is suspect. Volume testing is part of system testing. If data conversion logic has been adequately tested I don’t see how this will suddenly change when going live. With a tested regression plan, roll back is a piece of cake. You need skilled & experienced staff, not only those qualified on paper.

  14. Interesting point on structures built for adaptability. Most likely roles like Problem Manager, Incident manager are being handled by a single person or at most by inexperienced individuals. ICT has since moved from being run by your errand IT guy. The IT structure need to be well formulated and change management well structured to avoid prolonged downtime. Testbed may not remove all your problems but it eradicates the chances of having 5 hours of downtime since most actions and changes are well rehearsed in advance.

  15. I once thought to myself that they have mixed up transactions for money they would have taken from users accounts in use for something else, then having lost records of these transactions, now users have empty accounts.

  16. think steward needs some reprieve yes they need better customer service better system stability. but let’s be honest this bank is like the youngest and they overreached (which is okay love ambition) a d the client size needs massive scaling steward would fe good to poach some personnel from cabs Fbc standard etc to gain more traction

    1. Reprieve pahupenyu hwangu, I don’t think so. This isn’t some pet project yeEconet, they are literally messing with people’s livelihoods

  17. Steward is just a victim of its own success. A very large client base like they have can result in excessive transaction volumes that compromise even the best IT system. I remember how even big banks like Barclays and Stanchart had system collapses when check values spiked dramatically due to cash shortages during the hyperinflation period. Top IT guys from the UK and Israel would fly in and still not be able to fix the problems. It’s unfortunate but it does happen even to the best banks.

    1. @Chekaz – you point out a problem during hyperinflation, which was unique (most systems designed in the West where inflation usually is single digit would need changes to accommodate 12 digits or more…and with no end in sight; this was creeping functionality then). Volume testing is so critical to any bank (or enterprise nowadays), to struggle with it (with no apparent solution in sight or some resolution plan) when it occurs is unforgivable. There are “worldwide” companies out there who boast of end-to-end transaction turnaround times of 7 seconds, complete with fault tolerant resilient systems (Tandem/ACI) etc please don’t justify ignorance or failure. There’s always more to learn!!

  18. Steward Bank is doing nothing wrong but trying to give its clients a robust or should i say the easiest and most efficient way of banking in Zim. Most of you fail to understand that the global business cutlers are shifting towards digitization. For this to be in practice it begins today with the upgrades that annoy u as its customers but u will see the best results in the futeure. Currently HSBC UK is planning to close most branches because of digitalisation, why u may ask, they saw it fit to eliminate the need to be confined to brick and motar banking when one can do banking via USSD or the internet. MESE IMI HAMUNA NYAYA

  19. @The One Who Understands, the point still remains, whether using USSD or intenet (or any other future technology), the applications must still be tested and implemented by competent and skilled staff. You actually need to learn more than you think you understand. No amount of digitisation will be beneficial if poorly tested or implemented, it can only impress the ignorant.

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