Asset grabbing seems to be in season this 2020, as it turns out Safaricom #ticker:SCOM has found a new take on property rights to justify confiscating your money if you send it in error to someone who has a debt to its company.
To whit, one Chima did as we all have done sooner or later and sent funds to a wrong number. As it happens, so ordinary and routine are errors in keying in 10-digit phone numbers that the capability to reverse a send is a ready function.
But when Chima tried to reverse the error, he was told the wrong-number recipient had a debt to Safaricom and, therefore, the sum could not be reversed. Chima took it up with Safaricom on its social media handle, which advised him to ask the recipient to return his money and if they failed to go to the police.
‘Dear Police. Safaricom has stolen my money, where do I report it?’
It’s an extraordinary theft, so striking that it moved into my LinkedIn account last week in posts that were bemused that our largest corporate cannot quite understand whose money is whose as they take our funds into its financial services system.
For I happen to think my money is mine even if I hold it in my M-Pesa account, and if I send it in error, and if I retrieve it: still my money, unless I give it or sell it to someone else with my explicit permission and intent. That’s how property rights work.
But Safaricom obviously now sees it differently - and thinks our funds become Safaricom’s in cases such as Chima’s?
So how has our once-leader in customer service and rights so lost its way on this one? Is this a crisis of perspective and ethics that stretch to the very top of the organisation? Do the UK shareholders Vodacom argue that your money is theirs when it comes to collecting debts from other people? Or is this a local initiative, not reflected by the rest of the global group, in that only Safaricom is actually in financial services, where the other Vodacom businesses are not?
Either way, where is the big information campaign on this exceptional departure from M-Pesa recognising your funds as your funds? For Safaricom is a signatory of the Code of Ethics for Business in Kenya.
Indeed, so vigorous was the company’s support for the code, in earlier years, under different leaders, that it literally insisted its suppliers should also sign up to the code in order to even get its business.
The code of ethics doesn’t mention ‘what’s yours is mine, dear customer’. On the contrary, it states explicitly: “We respect our customers and clients, do not mislead or exploit them, and value their feedback.” Well, not Chima’s feedback, obviously. Or the thousands who have now shared and commented on the Safaricom post advising him to go to the police to get his money back from Safaricom.
So, let’s try some more feedback, and look at the words ‘mislead and exploit’. I have been misled by Safaricom into believing my funds remain mine throughout all usage of M-Pesa services. So un-mislead us all and declare the money is yours Safaricom, yours to reclaim, yours to use to pay off other people’s debts.
Or, more interestingly, let’s look at the guarantee that Safaricom will not exploit us. Is it exploitation for Safaricom to seize my money to pay off Patrick-Anonymous-Unknown-To-Me’s debts to Safaricom? Am I being exploited then?
To clarify, let’s look at the definition of the exploiting Safaricom has guaranteed it will not do to customers. Oxford Dictionary of English, Meaning 1: ‘make full use of and derive benefit from (a resource)’. Meaning 2: ‘make use of (e.g. a situation) in a way considered unfair or underhand’.
So Safaricom is making use of people mis-sending transfers to recoup its own debts. Yes, that’s unfair. Yes, it doesn’t take a genius to see it’s a breach of its own code of ethics. No, no -one should have to go to the police and waste time there to get Safarcicom not to take advantage of our mis-sends. And Yes, Safaricom needs to refund Chima.