The Barbados Bankers Association (TBBA) from this vantage point does not look too well in the recent scenario where thieves breached the ATM security at Republic Bank, CIBC First Caribbean International Bank and Scotiabank.
At the start of this week, it was revealed that over the past weekend thieves had gained access to the accounts of several customers via a number of ATM machines. Customers were directed by the banks to make reports to the police as would be necessary as the first stage in trying to apprehend those responsible and to have an official police record of the crime committed.
But we believe that our banks should have gone further. To date, unless we have missed it, there has been no official public apology to the Barbadian public for yet another breach in the security of our banking institutions and the safeguard of personal savings. Customers have been previously inconvenienced by similar breaches and one wonders what has been put in place since the last occasion to improve on security.
Thus far, all that has been forthcoming from TBBA has been a terse statement that it had been made aware of an issue involving the use of ATMs at several commercial banks and that the matter “is currently in the hands of the police” and that a further statement will be made once the police investigations are completed. But, hell no! The police investigations have absolutely nothing to do with our banking institutions communicating earnestly with the Barbadian public and giving assurances that an internal security audit will be conducted, that measures are being put in place to prevent such a recurrence, that citizens’ moneys are secure and most importantly, expressing some degree of public regret for the inconvenience caused to customers.
And we say this within the context that over the years domestic banking institutions have been increasing their financial charges to customers to such an extent that many feel there might soon be a fee for standing in the queue before the various tellers or sitting in the chairs while waiting to be served. With the charges related to doing business with the banking sector forever increasing, in addition to the negligible interest rates on offer, John Public is under no obligation to feel any sympathy for our banks or to give them a pass when incidents such as transpired over the weekend do occur. Notwithstanding that the banks are insured, customers place their moneys in these institutions for safekeeping and when they suffer inconvenience, the banks – not the police – must take the lead in carrying out an internal evaluation that leads to customers being compensated where necessary – post haste.
Indeed, if the inability to access funds creates a situation where rent obligation, vehicle payments, medical emergency, travel or debt commitments are compromised, then the banks should be held liable for the inconvenience. In short, finding the perpetrator(s) responsible for theft is the job of the Royal Barbados Police Force, but ensuring that customers are not unduly disadvantaged because of security lapses rests squarely at the banks’ doors.
The TBBA’s statement also occasions another concern about the monitoring system that currently exists. How often are monitors reviewed? Is this done on a daily basis by the banks’ own or contracted security? Is any suspicious activity reported to the police even when no complaint has been made by any customer? We ask these questions within the context that video footage from the latest banking breach shows that one of the suspects was wearing a facemask. Unless it is the norm for persons to do business at banks’ ATMs while wearing masks, then that scenario ought to have aroused suspicion. But suspicion would only be aroused if monitors are checked daily. Now did the banks only realize there was something untoward when customers started to complain of moneys missing from their accounts or did they know this beforehand based on a check of their security cameras? The TBBA’s sterile statement of being “made aware of an issue” answers none of these concerns.
Any financial institution – banking or otherwise – that proudly reports making annual profits even in the face of a depressed economy and difficult financial times for thousands, must be held to the highest standard of accountability, especially when much of its profits are predicated on what is extracted from the pockets of customers. Consumers who place their moneys on bank accounts for safekeeping owe no favour or responsibility to banking institutions. Indeed, the banks owe them and excuses are unacceptable. Customers pay through their teeth for these services.