When ATMs Go Down: How Banks Can Achieve Network Resilience

It is a common source of annoyance for anybody in rural communities; towns and cities around the world.

You visit your local bank branch’s ATM to withdraw cash or to print out a mini statement and you are met with a message informing you that the ATM is out of service. That is frustrating at all times but can be especially aggravating when there is no other cash machine available nearby. On the theme of banking resilience, here Alan Stewart-Brown, VP EMEA at Opengear, discusses with Finance Monthly the network issues banks are currently dealing with.

For retail banks, the issues and challenges presented by ATM network downtime are likely to be high on the agenda. Financial institutions are reliant upon a resilient network to ensure unique compliance requirements are met, address customer needs and adapt to evolving industry trends. ATM resilience is an important element of this.

Many banks have extensive ATM networks across the UK and often further afield. They may have an ATM in every town or city across the country, and in some places, they may be running multiple ATMs. They are likely also to have machines in many other more remote sites.  If they have network issues or outages, a large number of ATMs could suddenly be out of commission and that presents a huge range of issues and challenges to the bank.

Whenever ATMs go down, it will inevitably result in a loss of revenue and customers for the bank, as they switch to other providers. It is likely to also have a negative impact on a bank’s reputation and brand image. Less well understood, but equally important, it presents a security issue, as the engineer will have to open the ATM up while on site.

In the past, when an ATM went down, an engineer would be scheduled. Depending on availability; how remote the ATM was geographically and the severity of the problem, that could mean at the least hours or even days of downtime.

Even when the engineer arrived on site after a potentially long journey, fixing the problem might not necessarily be straightforward. The ATM may be owned by a third party organisation, not necessarily the bank itself. It may therefore be difficult to access because it is located in a building or facility belonging to another organisation and/or because the engineer’s visit happens out of normal working hours.

Finding a Solution

Banks with ATM networks need something that allows them to get these remote units fixed without having to waste engineering time travelling to the site and dealing with the security issues of opening the box up and the logistical issues that may be involved in gaining access to the ATM itself. They need a solution that can give them remote access when the network is up and running and also when it is down. And they need one that can allow them to power cycle the equipment within the ATM when the router hangs – a common problem in these environments.

These networks also need a solution that is vendor neutral on the equipment it connects to but also on the power equipment it can manage. An out-of-band management unit can be added to each ATM to reduce downtime to just a few minutes and bring them back up very quickly. It also negates the need for someone to physically go to the site, and most importantly removes the necessity for the secure opening up of the ATM.

Keeping Branches Up and Running

ATM failures are of course one key aspect of a broader requirement facing banks to keep their retail branches up and running at all times. At Opengear, we are seeing a growing demand for solutions that deliver network resilience from core to edge in financial networks. One of the top performing banks in the US recently needed an out-of-band solution for its multiple locations across the country. With the challenge it faced highlighted by a recent outage at a remote location, the bank wanted to reduce the burden of travelling to geographically-distributed sites, decrease downtime and ensure compliance requirements were met. It chose to deploy ACM7000 Resilience Gateways from Opengear at each branch location, paired with the Lighthouse Central Management System (CMS), also from Opengear.

Failover to Cellular (F2C) and Smart Out-of-Band (OOB) technology ensure security requirements are met while also providing access to infrastructure during a disruption, with an alternate path to the primary network using 4G LTE. In addition, the bank is able to deploy and provision new sites remotely.  It is a great example of the benefits of resilient access to networks in financial services when an outage occurs.

In summary, outages are bad news for banks and other financial institutions. ATM outages are arguably especially bad because they are particularly visible to customers; cause immediate loss of revenue and customer churn; as well as negatively impacting reputation and presenting a security risk. But they are inevitable because of human error, cyberattack, and the ever-increasing complexity of network devices, modern software stacks, and hardware devices. To keep consumers happy and the institution’s reputation intact, financial services must be prepared for outages. Smart OOB with Failover to Cellular can keep services running even when part of the network is down.

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