Feature Article of Friday, 16 November 2012

Columnist: Esinam Femensah

Help! Our Banks Are Robbing Us.

My chronic fear of figures when I was young was legendary. Back then, I was one of the privileged few who could multiply, subtract or add the simplest of figures and still come up with the wrong answer. Because of that, the idea of putting my money in a bank initially was not something I was comfortable with. The bank statements alone were enough to put me off.

Eventually, I opened an account with one of those blue-coloured banks because I had gotten tired of giving loans to friends (who knew I always had ready cash) who never repaid. I was also lured by those wonderful interests and services promised clients by banks. Blue was also one of my favourite colours, but most importantly, I knew my money will be safe and I could leave the dreaded business of adding and subtracting to the bank.

The relief that came from keeping my money away from free-loaders was short lived however as I begun to notice some interesting happenings in my account. First was that whenever I had a large sum of money in my account, a certain amount of it will mysteriously disappear. When the amount was less than a GHC 150, only the usual bank and ATM user charges were deducted. I became more suspicious when these mysterious disappearances did not reflect in my bank statement. It was at this moment that I decided to sit up and pay more attention to what was happening in my account.

I first went to the bank just to find out again how much I was paying for the services I had signed up for. Armed with that, I started keeping all my bank statements as well as the receipts from the ATM and withdrawals and made it a conscious effort to periodically track the amount of money in my account. Over the cause of months, I still noticed that the  monies still disappeared in my account when I had a lot of money in there, but  when I intentionally leave just enough to cover my bank charges, the money will remain relatively untouched. My bank statements came by the month, but there was also nothing in there to explain this mystery. I felt so betrayed because the bank was the last place I expected my money to go missing.

Interestingly, when I confronted the bank with my findings, they did not believe it, neither were they willing to accept responsibility or even investigate further. After much back and forth, my bank finally issued a lukewarm apology, but never told me who or what made my monies disappear in their care. Someone in that bank took my money and got away with it and the bank covered up for him/her, all in the name of safe-guarding their image and keeping clients. I wonder how many unsuspecting victims have fallen prey to unscrupulous bank officials and illegal banking activities all these years.

You may enjoy the feeling of security you get from keeping your money in a bank. After all, that is what banks are supposed to do- keep your money safe. The reality, however is that the banks can still make you lose your hard-earned money. According to research organization Gartner Incorporated, almost 2 million people in the US had money stolen from their bank accounts last year. The average loss was $1,200 with a total of more than $2billion in losses for the year.  Unfortunately, no research organization has yet conducted a similar study in Ghana.

The question is if the banks which are supposed to protect our assets and other investments are failing, who ensures that the average man's life savings is safe? What monitoring measures has the Bank of Ghana put in place to ensure that banks under its care are providing customers with the best of services? Again, what do the laws of the land say concerning banks duty of care to their clients and what punitive measures are meted out to them when they fail to do so?

While we await answers to these questions, the fact still remains that it is up to us to protect our savings and investments and to always ask questions or raise the alarm when we suspect something foul. It appears some banks are capitalizing on our negligence as well as our trust in their ability to protect our savings, to defraud us. If you are serious about protecting your hard-earned monies, I suggest you follow these few tips below to ensure you do not learn my kind of lesson too late.

For online bankers:
Please pay attention to all your transactions. Log into your account even if you have no transactions. Just take a look to know what is going on and to ensure nothing is wrong. If you notice anything wrong, contact your bank immediately.

  • Change your password periodically and call your bank to report all problems or suspicious activities

For offline bankers:

  • Again, pay attention. Do not just toss your bank statements into the nearest waste basket upon receiving them. Please do not also donate it to the roasted plantain seller in your area or substitute it for toilet roll. Read and make sure you understand them. If you don't, walk into the bank and ask questions.
  • Collect ATM receipts and keep them
  •  Keep track of all your transactions and report all problems immediately

Lastly, you can sue your bank if you have the clout or the necessary connections, but in all things, be vigilant.

Email: serwaaosei@rocketmail.com