Friday 19 July 2013

Protectors or bystanders?

I want you to imagine a scene. A woman is in a shopping mall. It’s late at night and she’s alone. She’s being approached from behind by a man who is clearly carrying some sort of weapon, possibly a knife. You, a trained martial arts expert who happens to be carrying a cricket bat, are watching this from a short distance away.

What would people think of you if you stood back and watched her being accosted, robbed and stabbed by her assailant and you did nothing to help her despite being well equipped to do so?

You know they’d hate you. They might even think you were to blame. Of course you wouldn’t actually be to blame, but they would be right to think you were culpable by not using the advantages you had to protect her.

Imagine instead that you weren’t just a bystander, but you knew her. Maybe she was even your customer, maybe you worked for the bank that owned the ATM she had used to withdraw money just before being attacked. Then clearly everyone would hold you partially responsible. You had a personal and professional connection to her that just increased your social responsibility to intervene.

This isn’t meant to excuse the criminal who actually attacked her, clearly he deserves to be arrested, charged, imprisoned and excluded from society for a long time. But you also had a moral obligation to do your best to protect her. It’s how decent societies like ours work.

It’s also how business works. It’s how customer service works. As a supplier you have an obvious responsibility towards yourself and your family, to your employees and to your shareholders but you also have a responsibility towards your customers. Legally you’re meant to meet some basic standards but also common sense says you should do your best to make your customers happy. That’s the main reason he or she will come back again and give you even more of their money.

You also have a responsibility to advise your customers and to protect them. You are meant to be the expert in your field. Whether it’s cellphones, computers, cars or insurance policies your customer has a right to rely on your superior knowledge.

Particularly if you work in a bank.

Probably more than any other supplier, banks have the power to ruin us. The good news is that banks don’t generally go out of their way to do this (although it DOES happen) but it’s more often by neglect that damage is done.

Card safety is a good example.

Bank customers have a right to expect banks to know more about card-safety than they do. I know, for a fact, that they do. They have the video footage and pictures, the computer records and the results of investigations and all of this tells them a great deal about the crime and the criminals. However the thing that staggers me more than anything else is how rarely they use this information to help us protect ourselves.

For instance, what do you do if you lose your credit or debit card? What do you do if you think your card and, worse still, your PIN have been taken? Who do you call?

Don’t think you can rely on your bank to tell you.

We currently have eight banks in Botswana. We did a very simple survey of those banks and the information they provide their customers on what to do if their cards are stolen or compromised. The results were poor.

Only four of the eight banks gave an emergency contact number on their web site but worse still two of these numbers didn’t actually work. A quick look at ATMs showed that fewer than half show the number there. You’d think that would be the most important place, wouldn’t you?

More worryingly half of the banks don’t even have a 24-hour number you can call. We found one whose policy say that they will hold you liable for anything done with the card until you notify them. Tough luck if you get mugged just after the call center closes. What the mugger does with your card overnight is your problem.

Rather amusingly we phoned one bank and asked what we should do if our card was stolen. Their answer was simple. Call the number shown on the back of your card. Yes, the card that was just stolen. Ah, they said, that’s a good point.

I think the time has come for something I don’t usually like. Regulation. We urgently need the regulator of banks, the Bank of Botswana, to get a lot more demanding and to INSIST on a few things. They need to insist that all ATMs show the contact number to call if our cards are stolen or compromised. They need to insist that all bank websites show this number on the main page. They need to insist that every bank switchboard operator knows the number. Above all, they need to insist that this number is staffed 24 hours a day, every day.

Finally they need to insist that banks make it perfectly clear when we first get our cards, exactly what our rights are and what we’re meant to do if there’s ever a problem.

Right now the banking industry and its regulator are failing us. Just like the capable bystander who fails to intervene when he or she sees a crime being committed, the banking industry is letting the victims of card skimming down by failing to adequately protect us.

We urgently need them to get off their ample backsides and put some of their enormous resources in protecting us.

Or do they just want to be a bystander while we’re being mugged?

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