THE Bankers Association of Lesotho (BAL) on Monday launched a month-long fraud awareness campaign under the theme, ‘Be vigilant at all times when using your internet banking, POS and ATM’.
The association comprises Standard Lesotho Bank, Nedbank, First National Bank and Post Bank. Nedbank Managing Director, PJ Bouwer, speaks to Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about the nationwide operation which ends on 31 December. Mr Bouwer was speaking on behalf of BAL chairperson and Standard Lesotho Bank Chief Executive, Mr Mpho Vumbukani.
LT: Could you please tell us the mandate of the Bankers Association of Lesotho and when the organisation was established?
Bouwer: The Bankers Association of Lesotho was established in 2006 and is made up of four local banks, namely First National Bank, Standard Lesotho Bank, Nedbank and Post Bank. The purpose of the association is to address industry issues together. Yes, daily we are in competition to get the best value for Basotho and ordinary businesses in the country, but there are a lot of other issues which do not need competition but collaboration. We are here today about fraud awareness, which is one of the issues which need cooperation. Fraud affects each and every one of us; it is not good for any one of us. So instead of holding four gatherings to address this issue, we thought it wise to do this together. When it comes even to the issue of security, we also collaborate because it is in our best interest as a collective, to make sure the banking environment is safer. The long and short of it is BAL is here to address industry issues that affect us all.
LT: How does this collaboration work?
Bouwer: We share information among each other. Where I see something happening in my business, I should inform the other bank to ensure it does not spread and affect the others. So we alert each other for the benefit of the entire industry, not us as individual banks. We do gain as individuals, but as a team, we work together. Basically, what we are currently doing is to have formal monthly meetings whereby we look at all the challenges affecting the industry. There are those challenges that directly affect our customers, and there are those that are affecting us as individual banks but coming from the regulator (Central Bank). We can highlight that in terms of the growth of the business. Yes, we are competing, but in terms of risk, we cannot be competing. We are looking at this from all angles so that we are covered. What we are saying is there may be an issue that affects my bank, which may not affect the other bank. So what we do is share information so that if it has negatively affected my bank, we make sure that it does not affect the next bank.
Fraud kills our economy. And by so saying, it means we need to be sharing risk experiences in the best interest of the financial sector and the country at large. We don’t only share information at formal monthly meetings, but also on a daily basis. We do not necessarily have to wait until the following month’s meeting to share the information we might be having. If there is something happening right now, I can just pick up the phone or send an email to the other banks and inform them about the issue. This is to make sure that they are vigilant at all times and we are always aware of what is happening in our industry.
LT: Do you involve other organisations in this fight against crime or is the information you have to share exclusive to the four of you?
Bouwer: Since BAL was established in 2006, this has not only been about us collaborating. It has also been about us approaching other institutions. For instance, we engage security agencies through parliament’s Security Cluster. Our chairman normally approaches the security people to assist us. If there is a legal issue, or whatever government institution we want to approach, we do it as an industry. So it is not just about our own benefit, but also to reach out to our client-base. For argument’s sake, last year we had rampant bombings of our ATMs (Automated Teller Machines). We collaborated and decided that as an industry, we were going to install ink canisters so that during the ATM bombing, the money is stained by the ink and the notes are not usable.
LT: Tell us about today’s launch of this awareness campaign…why now?
Bouwer: The campaign is to alert our depositors and indeed, the entire nation about possible criminal or fraud activities common to our industry at this time of the year as we head for the festive season. I must indicate and acknowledge that in our industry, fraud is usually perpetrated from within our own ranks where it may be committed internally and externally by criminals and even international syndicates who can be very sophisticated at times. At all of our banks, we have internal fraud awareness programmes where we reinforce ethical behaviour and I must say we are winning on that one. We gathered here today specifically to join hands and ask for your assistance as media practitioners to warn the public about external fraud that has become a threat to our clients and their money, which, if not properly controlled, can lead to many social and economic problems. We are launching this campaign with the theme, ‘Be vigilant at all times when using your internet banking, POS (point-of-sale) and ATM’. We are saying this message because we know criminals target their money at this time of the year. This is the time when people spend a bit more than usual; others get their bonuses and generally, more money exchanges hands.
LT: Traditionally, banks are there to provide financial services to the people and their businesses. How important is it for banks to go the extra mile and provide awareness campaigns like this one?
Bouwer: Banks are at the centre of this exchange and as such, we have legitimate interest to protect depositors and their money. Our other interest is that we, as banks, value our clients and indeed, as prescribed by the Central Bank of Lesotho, we have a duty to inform and warn the general public about how they should conduct themselves when handling their money. Lately, we have had reports of cloned cards, which is on the rise. Cloning happens when criminals steal information on clients’ bank cards and reproduce similar cards to defraud them of their money. I must emphasise that this crime involves international syndicates and has become cause for concern not only in Lesotho but also globally. Basotho have been victims of this crime, especially when they travel to South Africa and abroad, which why this campaign we are launching today is of utmost importance.
LT: What is your message to Basotho concerning this campaign and fraud in general?
Bouwer: Our message to the public is really to implore them to take the following precautions when using ATMs and credit cards: Do not accept help from strangers; keep your PIN (Personal Identification Number) a secret; sign your payments card at the back as an additional measure against fraudsters using your card; safeguard your ATM card, credit card, debit card, cheque book and bank statements at all times; protect your identification documents; report suspicious behaviour to the bank and the police, and report lost cards immediately. With regard to electronic banking platforms such as internet banking and mobile banking, we are aware the fraudsters have become very sophisticated. They can hack your computer system and obtain information, including your passwords, to gain access into your account. We therefore advise the following: Never respond to emails that require you to enter personal details; never give out your user ID, password, or account number into a non-secure web page; remember, no bank can ever request you to confirm confidential details via email; never log from a link, type the web address every time you log in for online banking; log regularly to your online accounts and check the last login date; check your bank statements to make sure you recognise all the transactions; and if something looks suspicious, contact your bank immediately.
Having shared these precautionary measures, our message is not to make anyone paranoid about our transacting channels which are very safe, good and convenient banking platforms if used correctly. I therefore want to reiterate that these banking platforms are safe and convenient, but people have an obligation to use them responsibly. I am saying obligation with emphasis here because if a customer loses money to fraud and during our investigations, we establish that they have been irresponsible in the handling of the account, we, as banks, have no obligation to refund the customer. A typical example here is of customers who give their family members access to their ATM cards, be it their spouses, partners or children. We handle numerous cases where account holders come back to us to claim that their money is being stolen, only to discover that the culprits are family members. Banks usually advise customers in such instances to issue secondary cards which can be controlled and monitored.
I plead with Basotho to spread our message and play their part in helping us combat fraud because it affects us all as individuals. It also affects our small economy and really, this is a message for everyone who uses a bank or aspires to be a customer in future.