E-pay glitch a bad omen
When the clocks rolled over to the year 2000, most companies and organisations around the world survived the anticipated Y2K computer bug related to formatting and storage of calendar data. But as Thailand was saying goodbye to 2017 on Dec 31, the country's national e-payment system, PromptPay, failed to handle a similar foreseeable computer problem -- the calendar changing to 2018.
The computer glitch, which disrupted about 20,000 financial transactions for eight hours, may not deal a huge blow to the system, which initially provides for customer-to-customer transactions with a plan to expand it to customer-to-business and business-to-business use, but the technical failure undermines the government's goal to turn Thailand into a cashless society with the PromptPay service leading the e-payment gateways.
PromptPay is a centralised electronic money transfer service, a collaboration between the Finance Ministry, the Bank of Thailand and the Thai Bankers Association (TBA). It allows people to conduct online financial transactions with recipients who hold accounts at different banks free of charge for amounts less than 5,000 baht. They need only link their ID card or mobile phone number to accounts at participating banks.
Initially, consumers were reluctant to subscribe to the service amid concerns, raised by legal experts, that it could be subject to problems over security, privacy and possible cyber-crime. The central bank itself had to delay the launch, from October 2016 to January last year, as it said it needed more time for testing.
But e-payments over the past year have grown, as have the number of users. As of November last year, the e-payment volume had reached 330 million transactions, up from 302 million transactions in January 2017. As of Dec 17, PromptPay registrations numbered 37.1 million users.
PromptPay and quick response (QR) code payments are seen as important tools to drive e-payments in Thailand and serve consumers.
These positive developments should give a boost to the government's pursuit of the digital economy goal. But the computer bug could undermine this effort as the incident is likely to erode consumer confidence in both the stability and security of PromptPay in particular, and e-payments in general. And bank customers have a right to worry about such issues.
The explanation provided by the operators, the Finance Ministry, the central bank and the TBA, is hard to for customers to swallow.
TBA chairman Predee Daochai pointed out the problem was mainly a result of an error made by the foreign software developers, which mistakenly set the wrong date and time for the Thai calendar.
His clarification was repeated yesterday by Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong who insisted it was merely a technical error during the transition to the New Year. Additionally, Mr Predee said it took many hours to fix the problem because they first had to identify the cause of the bug and then coordinate with the software developers and participating banks.
The episode shows the operators had no plan in place to prevent such a bug from crippling the system, or a resilient crisis-management plan for responding in a more timely manner.
The banks and ministry behind PromptPay should realise what a difficult position this puts consumers in.
If the system failed to handle a foreseeable problem of a calendar year change, how can consumers be convinced that other, more serious potential problems such as hacking will be handled effectively?
PromptPay operators need to use more reliable technology which guards consumers against security threats and affords them peace of mind that the service will be there when needed. They should not have to worry about potential technical glitches, or the government's pursuit of the digital economy could end up being just a pipe dream.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org