06 Jun

On Friday 1st from 2.30pm, a Europe-wide system failure at Visa that left shoppers embarrassed as their card payments were declined and stores switched to ‘cash only’.

Not Just Visa Customers

To make matters worse, because a range of different banks and other financial institutions use Visa’s payment system, even those making transactions using non-Visa branded cards were affected and were unable to make purchases.

The problem was compounded by the fact that it happened at a time when many people were leaving work on a Friday. There have also been reports circulating that even if some card purchases were declined, the money may still have been taken from accounts, and customers have been urged to check.

What Happened?

There are no precise details as to the reason for the system crash other than Visa’s explanation as a “hardware failure”.
Visa has also been quick to announce that it has no reason to believe that the system crash was associated with any unauthorised access or malicious events.

ATMs Still Working in UK

In the UK, although many customers found themselves in extremely awkward situations e.g. unable to pay for meals or petrol, customers were still able to take cash out of ATMs (if there was one nearby). This led to large queues forming at ATMs in towns and cities across the country.

Queues

Whereas many customers faced the embarrassment and inconvenience of having their cards declined in shops across Europe, others found themselves being forced to wait in queues because of the disruption. For example, in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, it was reported that Primark customers had to queue for 20 minutes to pay, and staff were unable to note the reasons why transactions were failing. Also, it was reported that the Visa system failure caused a 45 minute wait for those trying to use the Severn Bridge as drivers were unable to pay the toll by card.

Anger

Not surprisingly, many people took to social media to vent their anger at Visa for the embarrassment and inconvenience caused. In Spain, the Guardia Civil tried to calm and re-assure people by sending a tweet urging everyone to stay calm, and used a picture of Captain Jack Sparrow to help explain that if they couldn’t pay, it wasn’t because they had been robbed or hacked.
Visa has apologised, and has stated that its payment system is operating at “full capacity”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though the problems only lasted a day, it is only a matter of weeks since TSB’s catastrophic computer meltdown caused misery to customers after the bank tried to migrate its computer systems from its old Lloyds Bank systems to its new core banking system, Proteo4UK.

We are now a society that is moving away from cash, in favour of cards and particularly contactless payments. Also, this move away from cash has meant the closing of many ATMs. Both of these factors mean that system failures of this kind can be particularly disruptive.

For businesses, customers not being able to pay meant that profits were hit, their premises experienced disruption with some staff being left to face angry customers, and unable to offer a clear explanation.

The incident has, no doubt, also illustrated to any potential hackers how interconnected payment systems are across Europe and how many countries could be brought to a virtual standstill if they were able to breach the systems of major payment processing companies such as Visa.