Banking disaster recovery: A lesson from history
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Banking disaster recovery: A lesson from history

Banks need to be hyper-vigilant as threats grow from both malign and accidental disruption.

Photo: iStock

1970s Britain was a grim place, as gritty documentaries from the time show: soaring inflation, a three-day week, an oil crisis leading to petrol shortages and families huddled round candles during interminable power cuts. For decades, the privations of the era have been used – mostly by the right-wing press – as an illustration of the worst of times in the country.

The UK in 2022, however, seems to be reliving this era. The consumer prices index (CPI) was up by 6.2% in the 12 months to February 2022 – the highest CPI 12-month inflation rate since March 1992, when it was 7.1%.

Bank resilience to all forms of disruption – physical or digital – is a priority

There is a new three-day week, which admittedly isn’t the result of the unions, rather the result of pandemic-driven remote working. An army of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday office workers (TWATs) descends on the City of London each week, chafing against efforts to persuade them to return to the office full-time.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February means that the UK is now set to experience 1970s oil prices as well. It could lead to widespread power cuts, something that some London-based bankers got a real-time practice run for in late March.

On Tuesday, fire at an electricity substation in Poplar caused a power failure across east London, including the Canary Wharf financial district. This led to the activation of emergency electricity supplies at many impacted banks – a useful dry run of disaster recovery plans that have carefully been put in place. These involve the activation of multiple back-up generators to keep vital operations such as the trading floor running smoothly.

Citi powerless

While many banks appeared to have been largely unaffected by the power cut, Citi was not. After its Canary Wharf building, which is undergoing an extensive revamp to create a mixture of private workspaces, collaboration spaces, socializing areas and wellbeing zones, lost power, many workers had to go home or reroute business to other offices.

In a memo to staff, Citi’s country officer for the UK James Bardrick explained: “We expect access to power in and around Canary Wharf to be compromised tomorrow, and possibly for a longer period of time.” The following day he continued to advise staff to work from home, stating: “The power supply infrastructure serving the Canary Wharf Estate has been heavily impacted and remains uncertain.”

Russia’s recent actions have revived yet another 1970s throwback, the Cold War, so bank resilience to all forms of disruption – physical or digital – is a priority. The cause of the electrical fire in London remains unknown. The consequences need to be well understood.

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