Broken Trust

The premise of ITBusiness.ca’s e-mail newsletter and its relationship to our seven print magazines is simple: we can break timely stories on our Web site, while our bi-weekly and monthly titles can look at issues in more depth.

Occasionally, however, the sudden twists and turns in the technology industry can put some of those in-depth print articles in a sharply different light.

Next week, for example, readers of InfoSystems Executive (ISE) will receive our November issue featuring a cover photo of Michael Foulkes, executive vice-president and CIO of TD Bank Financial Group. Foulkes is quoted in a feature story where we explore the $7.8 billion merger of TD Bank and Canada Trust last August and the integration of the two institutions’ IT systems.

The magazine will come out about a week after the bank suffered one of the biggest IT scandals in its history, when millions of Canadians were unable to access their TD accounts due to a hardware problem. Although Foulkes acknowledges in the article that “time will tell how successful (the merger) has been,” we had no way of knowing such a massive problem would erupt on Oct. 27 — the issue was sent to the printer almost two weeks ago.

Obviously, we have a customer relationship management problem on our hands here. We have to put the article in proper context for ISE readers (if you’re not one of them, you should be; click here for a subscription form) and try to provide more up-to-date coverage of the Oct. 27 debacle. Writing this editorial is the first step in that process. We will also be doing a follow-up story in either ISE or Computing Canada, which comes out more frequently. This is the most direct, honest approach we can take to dealing with a news story that is moving faster than our print publishing deadlines.

TD Canada Trust, obviously, has some CRM issues of its own. Though details are slow in coming, published reports indicate the bank’s automatic teller machine (ATM) network was disrupted by a failure in a memory board. There is an old proverb about how the beatings of a butterfly’s wings eventually result in the entire world shaking from an earthquake. That memory board is TD Canada Trust’s butterfly, and it needs to stop the tremors now before they result in a seismic shift in its customer base to another bank.

TD has been here before, of course, having irritated thousands of Canadian customers when its debit systems in Wal-Marts across the country charged double or triple the price of their purchases. It also carried out its merger with Canada Trust after considerable discussion and controversy surrounding the aborted union of the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank. Research firm Gomez Inc. told ISE of how TD’s adoption of Canada Trust’s higher service fees put off many customers. In some ways, this latest snafu is the icing on the cake.

With its credibility at stake, TD Canada Trust needs to be as open and transparent as possible in admitting its failure and its plans to make sure it never happens again. The full-page ad it took out in major Canadian newspapers was a good start. There have already been calls for TD Canada Trust to waive its service fees for a month or offer a rebate to customers; it should listen. Costly though it might be, a significant gesture of goodwill has to accompany the mea culpa it will be making.

Banks sell themselves on convenience and reliability — think of the comfy armchair in TD’s current ad campaign, a motif we pick up on in ISE. Now TD Canada Trust’s management are squirming in those chairs. If there is such a thing as payback time, this it.

sschick@plesman.com

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