Is your money safe in banks?

Wednesday June 26 2019

An illustration of a robber stealing money from

An illustration of a robber stealing money from a bank’s safe deposit box. ILLUSTRATION BY IVAN SENYONJO 

By Eronie Kamukama

Should we be worried about our money? Worried enough to stash it under our mattresses or in piggy banks like some people still do? In their defense, they still believe their money is more secure if they are looking at it every single day.
However, in some of their adverts, commercial banks quash such lines of thought and instead note that their coffers are the safest place any Ugandan can keep their money.
Dfcu bank’s compliance manager Abdul Nabongho, backs up the banks.
“Keeping your money under your bed exposes you to risks. You never know when a flood will come or when your child will pick it and deface it. The bank is surely the most secure place,” Mr Nabongho says.
But do banks see it coming when criminals bypass their security systems in an attempt to steal what belongs to their customers? Take for instance, an attempted robbery at dfcu bank’s Bwaise branch in February this year during which three banks employees were ordered to open the safe that holds cash. The attempted robbery on Barclays bank in Nakulabye this March or the most recent attempted raid on Centenary bank’s Kawempe branch this June.
In fact, one of the Banks, dfcu issued a statement saying it would review its security measures to ensure better security at the bank.
Away from robberies, one other challenge facing banks is cyber-crime which targets personal and financial data.
In their experience, banks are faced with interception of customers’ payments. In turn, focus has been turned to lots of verifications for payments. They also counter a lot of card related payment compromises but when these come into play, they admit to partnering with companies such as Visa to set tools that manage the payments.

Bank fraud
Over the years, another crime – bank fraud – has been evolving. By 2014, statistics had reached Shs25b in losses annually according to the Deloitte’s 2013 Financial Crimes Survey. For instance, in 2015, a report by Daily Monitor shows fraudsters connived with employees of Equity Bank and stole Shs4.6b from the accounts of two South Sudanese nationals.
But Mr Nabongho believes Ugandan banks have been largely secure. The claim is that they have set a number of controls both internally and externally to avert any threat to the data they hold. Whereas the trends around security and kinds of transactions they handle online or electronically are becoming more dynamic, banks say they are evolving with the trends.
“Ugandan banks, you do not find quite a number where we have had physical intrusion,” Mr Nabongho says.

How protected is your bank?
Banks have been investing large amounts of money into systems that are not susceptible to intrusion which players consider a plus on their end.
The systems are said to have certain international certifications and have been tested in all aspects to work appropriately. They invest a lot in firewalls and antivirus because these can easily affect the financial and personal data they hold on a customer.
There is heavy investment in forensics so that they are able to add up the pieces in case of any breach. They also have a lot of internal controls so there is a lot of segregation as regards who does what. For example, someone who initiates a transaction is not the one who completes it.
Because banks are aware of the threats that surround your finances, they are investing in information technology teams to monitor their systems in real time. Banks are also doing a lot of integrations with financial technology companies helping banks to innovate products that ensure customers have a better experience while banking.
To counter third party risks, banks emphasise that they prioritise security around who they deal with the customer at the centre. They explain their initiatives to include due diligence, security control around what they can access and cannot in the bank.

Regulatory input
The assurance is that when account holders deal with a regulated entity, there are also controls the regulator puts in place to protect both customers and shareholders.
But regulatory risks are part of the things that keep your bankers awake. There are always changes in tax matters, supervision, data or even capital requirements. And this is not just local, global regulation also affects how your bank operates.
“The regulations sometimes are playing catchup as it comes in to plug in a few gaps where people realise someone has been manipulating customers,” Mr Nabongho says.
“In terms of the impact on the money we hold in the bank, when you have someone overseeing what a bank does, it is a plus for the customer because the regulation comes in to ensure that bank performs in terms of what we do with the funds. To us regulation evolving means more investment into things we need to do to comply.”

Can you protect your money?
Banks note that security has “you” in it. They emphasise that you should not divulge information on your finances to unknown parties. They also urge you not to share your bank credentials for instance not seeking help from any unknown persons on how to use your Automated Teller Machine card outside or inside the banking halls.
In relation to internet banking, you are encouraged not to respond to any emails seeking for information that seems to involve your financial data.
“We have seen phishing emails where one has a virus that affects your data. When you click it, they take over your account and communicate with your bank,” Mr Nabongho narrates.
This is how to verify your security.
“If you are making a payment to someone you are not sure of, call your bank because sometimes you could be sending it to someone else. So make sure the email has the right bank domain. When you deal with a bank agent, ensure you get a notification on your phone, get a receipt from our system and sign for a transaction in our books,” Mr Nabongho explains.