Australia’s defence has a powerful new weapon of strategic deterrence, the Australian Military Bank. No hostile foreign power could withstand the torture of spending hours on AMB’s automatic voicemail system trying to get through to an operator. The invaders would be forced to head home again in sheer bewilderment and frustration.

Customers can’t log on, automatic payments are failing, payees are being deleted, customers can’t withdraw money, they can’t get through on the phone, their emails are being ignored. It is all due to a new IT system apparently but we can’t confirm that either because there is no press officer and we can’t get through on the phone either.

Here is the story of two customers, Christine and Terry Stanton:

My wife Christine and I  have banked with AMB for twelve years and have always had good service.  It used to be the Australian Defence Credit Union, but changed into a bank about two years ago.  On 19th February 2018 they introduced a new log-in security system requiring members to log in with longer account numbers, secret questions, and new passwords.

It is impossible to register.  I am forwarding below the emails I have sent to the CEO, John Ford, and to one of the marvellous ladies at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, where we have our account, although we live in NSW.  We have not been in the military.

My wife has been trying to register on and off all day today and yesterday, and I tried on Sunday.   One of the ladies at the Branch phoned my wife to help, but it didn’t work then, and every time they send us a ‘one-time log in password’ by email, it has already expired by the time Christine tried to register with it.  Once she got in with one of these passwords the site repeatedly rejected her answer to the secret question.

Members are threatening to go elsewhere, but being locked out of their accounts, as we are, they cannot get their money out. That is our case. In addition, we have about $2500 in an access account which I should normally transfer to the savings account to earn interest as soon as the dividends are received. We depend on this for our pension.

I received an automatic bland reply to my email from Head Office telling me to use the website, or phone, or call in at a branch.  There is no branch within 300 kilometres of us, the phone is not answered and the girls in the branches are going mad trying to handle all the emails and complaints.

On the Bank’s website is a totally misleading apology letter from the CEO.  He talks about ‘some customers’ having problems, but it must he hundreds if not thousands of them judging by the difficulty there is getting to speak to anyone either at the Branch or at HO.

That was weeks ago. This week nothing has changed

This story is getting worse. Christine found a website called Product Review. She posted couple of things on it, and found that at that time about 50 people had already been on the site.

Now 511 people have looked at it, there are about 26 favourable reviews and 38 bad ones. I suspect the favourable ones arise from months ago when it was a really good efficient and friendly bank to use. Rob Oakeshott, our former MP, told us once that a written complaint actually represents about 1000 people. If in this case it only represents 100 people that is a huge number. Since the end of February it is one series of disasters after another, all to do with a so-called computer upgrade which has downgraded it to unusable proportions.

Today I tried to log on to see if some dividends have been credited to our account. I could not get in. I could not even bring up the page to enter our details. I sent an email about my problems on their “Contact” icon. In response they told me that they could not give details by email of our account, but invite our phone number so I hope they will call. They have no emergency week-end phone number.

My new complaints are:

1) I could not log on today.

2) All our payees had been deleted.

3) Two automatic regular payments from our SMSF account to our personal account at the same bank, which they made in March after the new system was started, were not made this month. This is extremely important and inconvenient as these payments are part of the admin necessary to make our SMSF comply with the law. Frightful penalties occur otherwise.

4) Emails and phone calls to their Head Office and to the Lavarack Barracks Branch in Townsville (where we opened the accounts over 12 years ago) are ignored.

When we went on to the Product Review site we saw that all of our complaints are echoed by other people, and many are threatening to close their accounts. The trouble is that, if you cannot log on, and you cannot speak to anyone, and you cannot make external payments, how are you to send your money to another bank, building society, or credit union?

I have reached the stage of wondering whether the figures you see on your account when you do log on are in fact genuine. Is the money really there?

John Ford, Chief Executive of Australian Military Bank, responded to the story last night with this statement:

Australian Military Bank has been helping Australian Defence personnel and their families make the most of their money since 1959. We are a niche member owned bank with just over 50,000 members and total assets of 1.4 billion. Our aim is to provide an easy, modern banking service and we are dedicated to helping the men and women who protect and serve our community.

Firstly, I acknowledge the disruption our banking conversion has had on a significant number of our members who have been inconvenienced during the teething stages of this upgrade. The initial friction point our members experienced involved registering for our new Internet and Mobile Banking platforms. As the new registration flow involved second factor authentication some members were unable to finalise the steps involved due to outdated contact details being held with our bank. These matters have been progressively resolved with our members.

Our aim with this banking system upgrade was to respond to the evolving digital environment and to allow our members to bank efficiently irrespective of time or place. To date our initial registration figures for both our Internet and Mobile Banking services have surpassed the old system as much greater functionality is available. However, the initial complications and transition to these new services have been unsettling for impacted members and for this, I apologise for the issues encountered. There was also unintended impact during the migration on stored Payees/Billers in member internet banking address books and the design of future payments requires further improvement (which we are working on).

Furthermore, I acknowledge there has been a delay in response times from our staff whether it be by phone, email or branch. Nevertheless, please be assured our staff are extremely dedicated to resolve all member queries as efficiently as possible through regular training and working extended hours. Member contact levels have now returned to more normal levels after the settling in period.

The conversion to our new banking system is nearing the two-month mark and I am confident that Australian Military Bank members will ultimately benefit from this new system. The additional functionality and enhanced security measures are only the beginning of this upgrade as we encourage members to provide us with feedback on these platforms. We are constantly listening to member feedback to contribute to the improvements of the system and our member’s banking experience with Australian Military Bank.