Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Verona Antoine-Smith | Is NCB’s upgrade virtual or real?

Published:Friday | August 2, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Verona Antoine-Smith
Patrick Hylton, CEO and president of NCB Financial, the bank’s parent company.
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National Commercial Bank’s (NCB) upgrade of its online banking platform has been fraught with problems for months, with technical difficulties even causing delayed salary payments for thousands of direct and indirect customers. A public apology was offered by the bank’s CEO, Patrick Hylton, followed by an advisory indicating that NCB was “committed to paying the late fees incurred by its customers on loans, credit cards, and utility payments as a result of the technical issues with its online platform”.

To date, some customers have not been reimbursed, and last weekend, the public was further advised that the upgrade would not be fully operational until the end of August.

A customer complained that on May 31, she made several attempts to perform a routine online transfer between her accounts but failed. One of the accounts is inaccessible via the ABM, so she visited the Boulevard Super Centre branch and directed her concern to a customer service representative. He advised her to do the transaction over the counter.

Being aware that there were fees for select in-branch transactions, she asked if she would be exempt as the problem was a direct result of the bank’s technical issues. He assured her that the fees would be waived and that the teller would be advised accordingly. The customer completed her transaction and left.

A few days later, while viewing her account online, she noticed that it had been debited with fees for the transfer and a lien had been placed on it. Apparently, her account had insufficient funds to cover the fee of approximately $1,300. But instead of honouring the written instructions on the withdrawal voucher, ‘Do not apply fees’, the account was debited with whatever little it had, thereby reducing its balance to zero dollars, and, subsequently, a lien was placed on it for the outstanding sum. The lien means that whenever funds are deposited into that account, the outstanding sum will be automatically recovered.

She has returned to the branch three times since her discovery and has written letters of complaints, to no avail. Much to her disappointment, on her third visit, the customer service representative scoffed, “It’s only a thousand dollars.” This complaint raises many issues.

Banking ethics and professionalism

Bankers should not assume that customers know the fees for every transaction. Notwithstanding, such knowledge should not abdicate their duty to inform them of any such fees to be incurred. In so doing, customers would indicate their preferred mode of payment or maybe even decide not to bother with the transaction at all. But the real issue is, why are fees being charged to customers’ accounts without their awareness and consent?

Articles 6, 8, and 9 of the Banking Services Act (2016) address matters to do with fees for products and services and the disclosure of same. Article 9 stipulates that “a deposit-taking institution shall provide a customer with reasonable notice in writing of any variation to the terms and conditions, including fees and charges, and interest rates applicable to any of its products or services that is to be, is being, or has been used, acquired, or accessed by the customer”.

Clearly, NCB’s action was unethical, at least. If this practice is allowed to continue, who will protect the little old man who never goes online to realise that his account has been debited with some frivolous fees behind his back? This practice should be especially worrying for customers who no longer have passbooks to peruse.

NCB should not just be focusing on upgrading its online interface, but it should also be investing in some customer service courses for its front-line employees. Customers choose NCB for various reasons, but they are not going to sit back and accept mediocrity in exchange for their loyalty.

Verona Antoine-Smith is a teacher. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and bergirls@hotmail.com.