Bugs plague Halifax

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The Independent Online
THE record-breaking pounds 9bn merger of the Halifax and Leeds building societies has run into difficulties, with customers complaining of delays caused by the incompatibility of the societies' computer systems.

Amid growing industry speculation that the Halifax is encountering serious problems in merging the two systems, the society admitted this weekend that computer glitches were causing delays for former Leeds customers using Halifax branches.

A spokeswoman said: "With a merger this size you couldn't put hand on heart and say everything would go smoothly."

Despite the completion of the merger six months ago, the Halifax is still struggling to handle some simple customer requests and systems experts say it could be two or three years and perhaps tens of millions of pounds before all the bugs are ironed out.

Integration of the computer systems of the Leeds and Halifax across the enlarged network of more than 1,000 branches is a multi-million-pound exercise in a merger that has already cost at least pounds 20m.

The society says that the Leeds' 500,000 borrowers and millions of savers should have no trouble making straightforward transactions, such as paying in or withdrawing money, at the 600 branches that were part of the old Halifax network. But, it admitted, many customers' account histories were not directly available. For example, if customers want information on whether a payment has arrived in their account, branch staff have to telephone elsewhere.

Leeds customers have also had problems getting their passbooks updated in Halifax branches. Halifax printers have not worked with some Leeds passbooks, requiring staff to write in details of transactions by hand.

The spokeswoman said the Halifax had realised that compatibility of software would be a "major issue" when the two societies announced the merger in 1994 and the problems were anticipated. Customers of the old Halifax are thought to be facing fewer problems using ex-Leeds branches because many of those branches are running both systems and Halifax software is predominant in the integration.

But the society does have to "de-duplicate" the two societies' customer databases before the free-share handout can go ahead, to ensure that customers with accounts from both societies receive only one set of shares.

The handout, expected in summer 1997, will be the largest extension of share ownership ever in the UK, with 10 million people due to be given free shares worth an average of around pounds 900.

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