Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney is facing scrutiny on the management of Britain's payments system after the biggest disruption in seven years delayed bank transfers and house purchases.
The Bank of England halted transactions via its Real Time Gross Settlement system for more than nine hours Monday after uncovering a fault during routine maintenance at the weekend. The system handles 575 billion pounds ($928 billion) of daily payments between the country's banks, including the same-day electronic funds transfers used by homebuyers.
The shutdown was the worst since software issues in 2007 prevented settlements for about six hours. Lawmaker Andrew Tyrie, who leads the U.K. Parliament's Treasury Committee, said the economy needs a "reliable" system and he wants assurances that there will be no repeat of the blackout.
"A crucial part of the U.K.'s financial infrastructure failed for several hours today," Tyrie said in a news release. "I will be writing to the Bank of England to find out why."
"We need to have confidence that the cause has been found and addressed," he said.
The RTGS system, which also powers the mechanism on which securities transactions are settled, was suspended at 6:00 a.m. The central bank processed the most important payments manually during the shutdown.
Simone Giansante, a lecturer in finance at the University of Bath, England, said this may be a "wake-up call to update the IT infrastructure" for the system.
"It's something that shouldn't happen," he said. "You can imagine how many billions are settled every hour. It's something unbelievable, especially in the U.K."
The RTGS mechanism is the infrastructure for the Clearing House Automated Payment System, or CHAPS, used for high-value wholesale transfers and other time-sensitive payments such as house purchases. On average, there were about 3,200 home sales each working day in the six months through June, according to Bloomberg calculations using U.K. Land Registry data.
CHAPS Clearing Co. said it is working to clear a backlog after earlier being unable to process payments. It will extend operating times until 7:40 p.m. and is "confident that all payments submitted [Monday] will be processed today."
The BOE said it will extend operational hours until 8:00 p.m. London time "to maximize the opportunity for settlement."
RTGS settles all major sterling interbank payments and was described in a 2012 BOE report as a "critical component" of the financial system that transfers the equivalent of the U.K.'s annual gross domestic product every three days. The central bank said in 2011 that U.K. banks may experience liquidity restrictions within an hour if a lender stopped or reduced its transfers through CHAPS.
The RTGS also runs CREST, operated by Euroclear U.K. & Ireland Ltd. and used to settle exchange-traded and over-the-counter securities transactions.