NZINGA QUNTA: My name is Nzinga Kunta, instead of Fifi Peters. Tonight we will discuss reports of dismissal of bank employees for violations in account activation. It also prompted me to think about the role of the banking ombudsman, about whom we hear quite a bit in the news, and who helps consumers when they have problems with banks. This can seem like a daunting task if you’re just a person trying to fight a corporation, whether it’s that your house has been taken away, or accusations that you find irregular or unfair.

So we are joined by Reana Stein, the banking ombudsman. Have a very good evening. Thank you so much for your time on the SAfm market update tonight. Just explain to us the role of the ombudsman.

REANA STEIN: Good evening and good evening listeners. Thanks for what we have. The role of the ombudsman? We are a free dispute resolution service and it just means that if you have a claim against your bank, any of the banks and it is not resolved by your bank then you can come to our office. We have a team of lawyers who can review any contract, evaluate any issues you have – interest rates, whatever they may be – and we can evaluate and decide if you are right or right. . And, if you are right, we will order the bank to rectify the situation. And, of course, if we decide that the bank is right in a particular case, we will explain why we say so, and try to explain.

Sometimes we also just mediate a situation where it’s not quite right or wrong. The dispute is there, but something that can be resolved. It’s a free service and we really work for the bank’s customers so they have somewhere to go where they don’t need to pay if they have problems with the bank.

NZINGA QUNTA: That’s right. Just tell me about the legislation that gives you the authority to do so.

REANA STEIN: In terms of the FSRA, the Financial Services Regulation Act, ombudsman schemes have been established. Our office is already 21 years old. As you know, the legislation was written a few years ago, and this legislation also provides for the registration of our Ombudsman Schemes in the Ombudsman Council, which is also the body they set up under this act. It is a supervisory body that will then ensure that we comply with what we have to do in terms of legislation.

At the moment, we are a voluntary scheme for all banks, but we monitor this act by the Ombudsman Council. So it kind of blends.

NZINGA QUNTA: That’s right. And what did you see in terms of complaints during Covid-19, with these powers of yours and with the work you do for the ombudsman?

REANA STEIN: Excuse me, can you just repeat that? We do not have a very clear line.

NZINGA QUNTA: Of course. Not a problem. During Covid-19, I read that there was a report by the banking ombudsman, which said an increase in complaints against banks from individuals and consumers. So I’m just asking you to explain a little bit what happened there.

REANA STEIN: Last year and the previous year we saw an increase in complaints. In principle, even if you look at the last four or five years, the number of complaints we have is increasing every year. There can be many reasons for this. Even during Covid our complaints increased, but not so much because Coronavirus covid infection. We did have a new category of complaints, which we then listed as a complaint against Covid, as opposed to a typical complaint at ATMs, internet banking or anything else, or a savings account complaint. So we’ve listed their complaints to Covid specifically, but we haven’t seen many of those complaints in our office. We suspect the banks handled a lot of such complaints before they came to our office because I’m sure they were flooded, but they set up special call centers and groups to work with people with complaints about Covid’s problems. We have seen several such complaints.

But overall our complaints have increased over the last two years, which we call the Covid years. It could be [that] people sat on the Internet, googled more, worked from home, generally felt indebted, so they looked for someone to help them. I also think that our consumers are more aware of their rights, so every year we see more and more complaints. So I think there are many reasons why our complaints have increased, not all related to Covid.

NZINGA QUNTA: That’s right. we saw that there was a message about the dismissal of bank employees for creating these so-called “ghostly accounts” to try to achieve their goals. Have you had any complaints from consumers around this and you can tell about it?

REANA STEIN: No, we don’t. I say corrected because I haven’t done research in all the years we’ve ever had complaints; this is obviously brand new. We also saw this as breaking news. I don’t think we’ve had any claims on this yet, but I think we should just tell consumers that if they’re afraid they’ve fallen victim, the bills have been opened in their name that they know nothing about and that they don’t want to and they then don’t get help from the bank to cancel that account and make sure they don’t pay a penny of fees, our office is there for them to complain. If they don’t know how to complain, if they feel unsure, we can help again.

I think otherwise [is] we can advise consumers. It’s good, as you know – we always say so – that people need to check their credit report. Now, maybe if you’re a scientist, a graduate, you are [perhaps] don’t quite know about credit records, but other people know and they should know. This is something you should do at least once a year. So if you think you just want to make sure you’re not one of those victims because you’ve heard something about it, go and check your credit history, because when they opened an account, I suspect that there should be a record of that through the banking systems in the bureau. This will show the bureau that you have this account. Many customers come to us and see in their credit report something they disagree with and know nothing about. Then, of course, we help [in getting] that removed. So I think this is another way for people who feel a little tired and don’t know if they have been hurt or if they have fallen victim to this scam …

NZINGA QUNTA: We need to finish, so I apologize for getting involved. I also just wanted to find out what we feel, I think, in different banks, where the shutdown will happen, and suddenly, if you’re from X bank, you can’t make a deal at all. Are our rights as consumers violated in such a case when a technical problem arises, and do we have the right to appeal if something is violated within three to four hours and we cannot make a deal?

REANA STEIN: Well, I guess if it’s only for a couple of hours [in which] there’s no access that in itself, I think, doesn’t necessarily give you financial losses or claims – unless, of course, you can’t prove it. If shutting down the system has caused a system failure, say, for example, a payment went through twice and you didn’t see that first payment went through, so you made another one and they don’t undo it, here are the things we can definitely help and that the bank must fix it itself. So it all depends on what happens during this period.

NZINGA QUNTA: Good. Thank you so much for your time and your understanding this evening. Reana Stein is a banking ombudsman and told us about what we see going around “ghost staff” that you can do if you think you are a victim but also really understand the role of a banking ombudsman, a free service for consumers who believe they may need to turn to banks.

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