Opinion & Analysis

Bank customers have been abandoned

Depositors queue to withdraw cash from a Chase Bank ATM. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Depositors queue to withdraw cash from a Chase Bank ATM. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

This year has seen the bosses of Chase Bank charged for their plunder of the bank, which left it at collapsing point by April 2016.

Yet, as investigators have pursued the individuals responsible, consumers continue to lose funds into a Chase Bank machine that appears to be either unregulated or regulated so poorly that the eye on consumers rights is clearly outright blind.

As it is, my own weariness at fighting with Chase Bank is extreme. Even in its pre-collapse era, the bank used to execute dud withdrawals with boring regularity, on one fateful weekend of more than half a million shillings from our company account. And then would start the battle to get the errors corrected.

Indeed, we used to joke, long before the bank went into receivership, that the point of Chase Bank was that you had to chase for your money: estimating at times that it was a near half-time job just watching the account and battling the errors.

So as I now stare at the dwindling, and even this month apparently negative, balance remaining from our unused and untouched blocked funds, I haven’t even bothered to put in a call. Let me take it all in one big battle once we’re supposed to be able to retrieve any of our seized money.

As one of the many hundreds of people who lost money in the Chase Bank collapse, we got off relatively lightly, in fact. There were some who lost billions. We didn’t, because we never had billions to lose.

The crash was, nonetheless, a nightmare month, suspending all our ongoing payments, as well as locking substantial funds into our company account.

Our already paid PAYE cheque bounced, our electricity payment bounced, we moved into days of chaos trying to maintain any kind of service at all with all our funds locked and payments blocked too.

Yet we survived, where some actually didn’t.

But where is the regulator looking out for us, and our funds since then? For, some months back, Chase Bank called me and told me our company account had moved into an unauthorised overdraft. Blank surprise. A dormant account, holding six figures in suspended funds, and now we had an unauthorised overdraft?

This was a special Chase Bank moment by any count.

The thing was, explained one very assertive account manager, that we needed to pay extra money into the account to cover the bank charges.

“But we don’t use the account: we’ve instructed to close it,” I said. In fact, after we retrieved the Sh1 million we were allowed to collect from it in June 2016, we have never made a single entry either inwards or outwards to that account, having obviously been forced to move our company banking elsewhere in April.

“But you cannot close the account: it has funds in it,” said Ms Chase Bank, thereby offering some insight into how and why it had never been closed as requested.

And there we got stuck, in a typically Chase Bank type fashion.

But where is the thinking that has not allowed customers to close their Chase Bank accounts, having had all the money in them anyway seized and frozen? Those funds could just as well have been held on escrow until we could have them back: versus the absurdity of customers being forced to pay Chase Bank new amounts to actually hold the frozen funds.

Are we honestly to believe that no bank, banker, room full of bankers, senior bankers or even legislators, might allow us NOT to additionally pay Chase Bank even more again to hold our funds frozen?

As it is, no one ever seems to worry about the customers or even mention them, as headlines cluster around the drama of Sh1.6 billion, or is it Sh1.7 billion, of fraud.

Yet for those of us who paid up the fraud funds, owing Chase Bank even more again for the privilege of being ‘they who were robbed’ will stand for me as an abiding icon of consumer rights in Kenyan banking.