RealTime IT News

Platform Shift Knocks 40K BofA Customers Offline

The Bank of America (BofA) is steeling itself and potentially irate customers for a computer system changeover that will render some 40,000 accounts inaccessible via online banking, ATM card access and automated phone.

The lockdown will begin June 16 and extend to July 25, cutting off Northeast customers who rely on computerized banking through the fourth of July holiday. Customers will be able to make payments, withdrawals and other transactions by going to a BofA branch, or by speaking to a BofA customer service representative over the phone.

Calling the transition an "unfortunate necessity," BofA spokesman Ernesto Anguilla said the bank expected the online service disruption and sent very specific letters to customers who will be affected.

The system halt stems from the BofA's switch from Fleet's legacy computing systems to its own new systems, a consequence of the BofA/Fleet Bank merger in 2004.

"There's a whole host of system differences," Anguilla said. "In order to integrate Fleet customers into the Bank of America customer base, they have to be on the Bank of America system. It really is one of the most massive transitions in the history of financial services."

Anguilla declined to provide specifics about the technology gear behind the porting from Fleet to BofA. But the bank, with one of the largest ATM networks and online banking businesses in the United States, is providing very specific details about the timeline for the service interruption.

The spokesman said the switch will be seamless for the vast majority of customers, with less than 1 percent of the bank's 5 million Northeastern customers affected.

BofA is switching the systems in two phases. In June, Phase one will include accounts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Florida. Phase two, beginning in July, will include New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Forty thousand customers have accounts that fall in both phases. It is this overlap that is proving to be most challenging. Come June 17, these customers will have full access through branches, online, ATMs and telephone banking to their primary accounts.

But the customers will lose automated access to their secondary accounts that exist in the second part of the phase between the two transition phases, from June 16 and July 25.

Anguilla provided a hypothetical situation to clarify the breakdown. Suppose a customer has a checking account opened in Massachusetts. Suppose the same customer had opened a savings account years ago in New Jersey. This customer falls into the cross-phase situation.

Once the transition phase begins, he would continue to have full access to the checking account through all channels, but would lose automated access to the savings account.

"During this five-week period if I wanted to transfer funds from my savings account, what I would need to do is go into a branch or call the telephone banking line and speak to an actual associates," Anguilla said. "They will be able to do anything that needs to be done to those accounts."

Customers should not be caught by surprise, the spokesman said. Detailed letters have been sent out explaining which accounts will lose access and for how long.

Customers should also note that the online banking access on the BofA site will be taken down for a four-day period to complete the system integration. Customers will not be able to conduct transactions online from 4:30 p.m. June 16 until 6 a.m. on June 20, though they will be able to view account information.

The news highlights the difficulty in integration disparate systems. Anguilla said BofA has spent millions of dollars on and hundreds of thousands of man hours on the transition. But there is no way around the patches of downtime.

The news comes during a stretch of strained public relations between BofA and the public. The bank was taken to task by government officials for losing data storage tapes loaded with sensitive customer information.