Sampo pankki, IT dreams, and user experience 08:12 on Tuesday

I haven’t said a thing about the Sampo-pankki fiasco, yet. But it needs to be mentioned, the initial consequences of the events are so close to the matters of user experience.

For those readers who have no idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a brief summary: A Finnish bank, Sampo-pankki, was bought by a Danish bank. They decided to unify their IT infrastructures to everyone’s benefit. All branding material was to be changed as well during the four days of Easter 2008 — each logo, outdoor signage, and leaflet in every city in Finland.

What happened was, to list some of the widespread symptoms, that:

  • Debit cards stopped working.
  • ATM cards stopped working.
  • Online banking was completely inaccessible for a few days.
  • Paying bills was not possible for some (many) customers, even after two weeks since Easter.
  • Some bank accounts disappeared from customer’s online services.
  • All pending payments for Sampo customers were paid instantly, wiping out customer’s accounts without warning and putting them on red until the next pay day (on which they might, or might not have been able to receive their salary…).
  • Some users had completely random numbers on their balance sheets; some seemed to have tens of thousands of euros, some had none.
  • Information about loans was absent.
  • Payment categorization feature, introduced and hyped a year before, vanished without warning.
  • Customer service was flooded an incapacitated (they have now said they can return to regular service level in June)
  • New Java-based, more flexible security measures were introduced to the online services, blocking out a significant amount of users. And who wants flexible security anyway?
  • Apparently Sampo does, as a potential exploit was identified in the Java security system within two days.
  • Sampo dismissed this threat basically by saying “it is not a security threat if it has not been exploited”. Looks like they have some real professional hands in the security department.

In short, the change didn’t go very smoothly.

What I find interesting is, how an incredible fuck up of this volume affects the user/customer experience, and indirectly via the provided experience, the whole business. On the first day of problems, I murmured to my girlfriend “it will be interesting to see how many people abandon the bank and switch their accounts to a competitor, all because of a bad experience.” My guesses were either “nearly no-one”, or “a significant number” of customers. Significant as in an amount that has even the slightest significance to Sampo’s operations.

On April 4th MTV3 news told even companies are leaving Sampo. They went on to say just one of the competing banks was receiving hundreds of new customers from Sampo each day. Considering the general level of local news nowadays and the seemingly complete illiteracy of journalists regarding statistics, these numbers could as well be true or not. In fact, two days later MTV3 news reported that hundreds of customers are considering leaving Sampo bank. A third number is, that over 12.000 people have contacted the customer service at Sampo about problems they are having.

So this is the kind of IT merger you get for 200 million euros. Perhaps this is no surprise to anyone who has worked on IT projects in the last 10 years. From what I’ve heard, this project has been going on for at least three years, and the eventual problems in deployment were well known at the beginning (my source of rumors can correct me if I’m wrong ;). Every project manager dreams to stay in budget and deliver on time, even though all their gantt charts, projections, excel charts, issue trackers, and one-on-one sessions with programmers are telling them otherwise.

200 million is a big number. It would be interesting to know how it compares to the amount of branding and tactical marketing the bank does. How many millions of euros have been spent during the years in building the brand, and what are those millions worth in the head of a customer who can’t get their money out of the bank, because of “new and massively improved services”? What about when the customer finds out the “new and improved” service is actually a stripped down version of the old service? In a year from now, do you think any random person will remember the great TV spot I had the honor of scoring or rather this Easter’s fiasco? How many thousands or millions of euros are required to revive the trust of customers? Was the “done in a hurry” 200 million IT investment worth it at the end?

I don’t know, of course. But it would be interesting to have the numbers.

6 Responses to “Sampo pankki, IT dreams, and user experience”


  1. Jussi Says:

    Actually Danske Bank bought Sampo Pankki (sic) in Nov 2006, so the disastrous IT-project was “completed” in less than 18 months. At least the running IT-projects at the time were halted after DB took over and the integration planning begun.

  2. PA Says:

    What is more, as far as I know, there hasn’t been a word about bringing back the missing features and the level of user experience that was there before the operation. The discussion has been merely about fixing the technical problems.

    I have never used the Sampo online bank myself but some people have told that it was rather advanced. Even without all the technical problems, it would have been interesting to see how the customers take it that their user experience suddenly gets degraded and they get nothing in return.

  3. Tina Says:

    I bet this’ll also affect the morale of the Sampo employees, who now have to put up with a tidal wave of complaints while remaining the friendly professional face of the bank. In the end Danske Bank may find that all it bought was buildings and a basic infrastructure in Finland, having utterly wasted both the benefits of the long-developed Sampo brand itself, as well as the goodwill and ready cooperation of their new Finnish employees, the best of whom may begin searching for employment elsewhere in frustration.

    It’s a case study in how NOT to merge companies internationally–you don’t impose your own technologies and practices from the main office in one country on a company that did so well because it had such highly developed local services for another country. Not only is the website “upgraded” from clean and advanced(for a bank site) to unstable and cryptic, but the main office in Denmark now also hands down decrees regarding what types of loans to approve, which often do not take into account the ways in which Finland differs from what they’re used to, which also doesn’t put much faith in local knowledge. Which also pisses employees off.

  4. Niko Says:

    I actually read on today’s Helsingin Sanomat that the recent events have been good on the morale of Sampo employees. They have realized how important good and timely communications are for customers, and also how valuable having good service is, and perhaps most importantly, they admit screwing up. As a gesture of apology they’re waiving service fees for all customers until September — and this on top of paying whatever damages customers are claiming. All this information comes from the vice president of Sampo Pankki. I would add though, that any information about employees’ morale coming from a vice president has to be taken with a grain of salt…

    The article I’m referring to is online, but looks a bit different than on paper. Or have I been dreaming on the plane…?

    Meanwhile, HS has some numbers on Sampo:

    • OP says they have received “hundreds” of mostly small corporate customers, and around 8 000 private customers
    • According to Nordea, they have 1 500 new private customers who switched from Sampo, and thousands on the way
    • It is believed Sampo has lost 15 000-20 000 customers, but Sampo says the numbers are 1 000-5 000
    • Sampo has a total of million customers
  5. PA Says:

    Well, according to Taloussanomat Sampo employees are requesting extra bonuses due to the additional workload and stress caused by the angry customers.

  6. Niko Says:

    Maybe a bit more salt then. :D