A nightmare before Christmas: e-payments blackout
What is the worst that can happen as a merchant or customer a day before Christmas Eve? A blackout of the e-payments network. It happened today in Belgium: 4pm local time, shops are packed with customers who do their last minute Christmas shopping. “Sorry our card payment system is out of order”, says the cashier when I want to pay my Christmas gifts. I ran to the nearest ATM in town to get cash. While queuing in front of the ATM the machine ran out of cash… Twitter messages are broadcasted from all over Belgium: this is a nightmare. I decided to go home and come back the next day to pick up my gifts.
Atos worldline, the market leader in electronic payments in Belgium reported a technical incident around 4pm that caused transaction systems to fail. A very bad timing since Saturday, December 21st it recorded 10% more transactions in the week before Christmas then during the same period last year: 5.499.709 electronic payments were made last Saturday (not bad, knowing that there are only 10 million people in Belgium). The previous record dated from Friday, December 22nd 2012 (5.314.820).
Ironically, on December 19th, Willy Walraeve, CEO of Worldline Benelux stated: “I believe a cashless society is possible.” However, people who had cash in their pocket today were lucky and so were the retailers who attended them…
[update 6:30pm: most shops report systems to be operational again. Too late, as in Belgium the majority of the shops close at 6pm.]
[update dec 30th: the NSZ (national syndicate of independent merchants) estimates the loss of the 2.5h blackout at 51 million EUR.]