Our banking partner NAB is currently experiencing a major outage, with their online payment services routinely dropping transactions. The issue has continued for days and unfortunately we currently have no estimate of the time to resolution. We thought it would be timely to share some thoughts on our efforts toward improving availability for businesses using Pin Payments.

How do you keep a payment system online in Australia?

Conceptually, high-availability systems can be simple: things might break, so keep a spare. The things that break include servers, power generators, coffee machines, and any other significant component of your system. As a matter of course, Pin Payments has always employed redundant systems with automated failover, load balancing, and physical separation of components that might cause each other harm. These days it can be relatively easy for a new web app to achieve satisfactory levels of availability. Backstage, however, where a payment system crosses the border from "new web application" to "bank", the approach to technology sometimes lags contemporary engineering by a decade or more.

Obviously payment processing is not solely a technical domain. It takes more than architecture decisions to Get Stuff Done. Deployment of a "spare bank" is a multi-year commercial/political epic, not a sensible bit of engineering solved with a couple of whiteboard diagrams.

An unfortunate feature of the local payment landscape is that simple high-availability architecture has not been available to small businesses. Your favourite restaurant does not have the time to implement load-balanced merchant accounts with automated failover (nor does the government). Instead they must accept the risk of the bank going offline and losing sales when it happens.

Easy code, hard conversations

This problem is one of many opportunities for Pin Payments to help. We have recently brought our improved transaction routing online to defend our merchants against bank outages. The system architecture work was straightforward. Navigation of the commercial/legal/political environment was not.

NAB has been a key partner of Pin Payments since our beginning and their involvement has been critical in deploying our platform. NAB provides merchant facilities (bank accounts that receive funds from credit cards). In front of these merchant facilities NAB provides a system called Transact. NAB Transact is a multi-purpose reporting system from SecurePay (Australia Post) that, among other things, assists in submitting payments to the credit card networks. Transact's performance is inadequate for us and our merchants, so we built in an additional link to the card networks to protect our merchants from outages. Our new system works - Pin Payments is up while NAB's own merchant services are down. We have unique capabilities in place to protect our merchants. For the first time, highly-availabile redundant connectivity to the card networks is available, at no cost, to Australian businesses of any size.

Although this can be difficult to appreciate during a four-day outage, NAB is Australia’s best payments bank. Pin Payments is committed to building future products to help small businesses with NAB's support, irrespective of whether Securepay’s technology has any involvement.

We’re serious about our mission to fix payments for Australia. It'll take time. We’re inspired by our customers, and as we continue to grow with you the team at Pin Payments offers our humble thanks for your support.