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Ambushed! Former banker gives advice to the unwary

Published:Sunday | October 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Dalton Yap appears to be caught up in the memories as Justice Hilary Phillips - his former attorney - reads from his book 'A Matter of Conduct: A True Story of a Man Who Battled a Bank and Won' at the launch of the book held at the Dragon Court Restaurant in Kingston on Monday, October 8. -Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

Avia Collinder, Business Writer

Employed during the early days when local banks were just beginning to make 'good' money from the credit-card market, Dalton Yap, author of the book A Matter of Conduct: The True Story of a Man Who Battled a Bank and Won was the man accused by the Jamaica Citizens Bank (JCB) of engaging in practices which exposed the financial institution to losses connected to its Visa card service.

He was subsequently dismissed and sued by the bank.

Yap was then general manager of technology and operations at JCB which later became part of the newly created Union Bank under the financial sector bailout programme of the 1990s and was acquired by RBTT of Trinidad.

Today, having long been fully cleared by the courts of fraud and negligence allegations a dozen years ago, he is now an established businessman - and current president of the Kingston-based Chinese Benevolent Association - with a story to tell.

In 1993, he was accused of fraud and negligence, accused of exposing the bank to potential losses of US$695,710.89 and summarily dismissed. Soon after, he was blindsided by a related lawsuit.

historic injunction

The court on JCB's application froze US$400,000 of Yap's personal funds - being held at the time for a plastics business in which he was part owner. The injunction was historic in local legal circles, being the first to be applied 'until judgment'.

The usual request was for an injunction lasting for weeks.

On September 22, 1997, the Supreme Court's judgment in Jamaica Citizens Bank v Dalton Yap was handed down. Yap was found to have committed no fraud but was fined US$106,000 for negligence in the opening of one telemarketing account.

Yap and his lawyer, Christopher Dunkley, decided to appeal to completely clear his name.

Yap won his case in the Court of Appeal in 2000, represented by Dunkley and Queen's Counsel, Hilary Phillips.

Phillips is now a judge of the appeal court.

JCB, then as part of Union Bank, appealed to the UK-based Privy Council, only to have the appeal dismissed and costs applied in 2002.

A Matter of Conduct chronicles the corporate intrigue involved in the case.

On Monday, October 8, Yap launched the book which chronicles his 10-year legal battle. Today, he is dishing out advice which he says will serve both corporate managers and ordinary employees well in protecting themselves from false accusations.

Q: Are there gaps in operational practices of local banks that leave employers vulnerable?

Yap: Local banks are notorious for not having proper procedure manuals. When I started with JCB in 1988, there was no procedures manual for teller operations, for data centre operations, for performance appraisals, for software development, etc.

I found out there was an employee (my colleague at the time) an assistant general manager who was never given an appraisal for the 15-odd years that she had been there.

When an employee has to make decisions based on tradition and gut-feel then you know you are in trouble.

What are the three critical lessons from your experience that are relevant to the corporate manager and employees today?

A) Watch your back: As you climb the corporate ladder, be careful of the people around you, especially among members of your senior management team. They can gang together and throw you under the bus for self-preservation reasons.

They want to protect themselves at all costs, so your career means nothing to them. Watch your back by making sure that you store some of the critical information about your work off-site: copies of signed minutes of meeting showing collective decision that you were asked to implement; memos from immediate supervisor and your boss giving directives; and generally documents relating to a project that you are working with should be copied and kept outside of your work place.

This is to protect yourself from being summarily dismissed on a Friday afternoon with only your coffee mug and not having any documents to fight with when you are charged with negligence or acting with outside company to defraud your employer when you have nothing to do with those allegations.

How can you fight a lawsuit brought against you when your employer has ALL, I mean 100 per cent, of the documents?

Give your best and shine, be a star off the block, but remember that you are your best protector about the insecurities around you.

B) Conflict of interest: As a habit, declare your outside business interests to you employers every year. If you have equity in a company ensure that your boss or your HR department is aware of it.

Don't use your personal account to conduct the business. A review of your personal account by your internal auditor may just coincide with a fraud investigation involving large amounts of money similar to those in that account.

Keep your business account in another banking institution.

C) Consistent conduct: Don't take credit when the idea is from your one of your line staff. Don't sign on documents when you are not responsible for their outcomes but only make you feel important.

Which two lessons have you applied to your current business practice; with what measurable results?

Being fair to the people you worked with has been a hallmark for me. This experience with the bank had taught me to be even more careful to listen to your staff, customers and your colleagues. I was not afforded that opportunity once and it almost destroyed my life.

Trust but verify. Trusting without verification is like believing in God - an act of faith. Having faith in your religion works wonders for your personal life but is no good in corporate life.