MEMBER of Parliament for St Mary Western Robert Montague has raised security concerns that have emerged with banks increasingly outsourcing some customer service functions to business process outsourcing (BPO) entities.

Montague, who raised the issue while making his contribution on Wednesday to the State of the Constituency Debate, called on the minister of finance and the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) to intervene in the matter to deal with it specifically, along with a slew of other issues that have been raised repeatedly about banking fees and poor customer service.

“When I lodge my money with the banks, there is an expectation on my part for the banks to keep my information confidential,” Montague said as a prelude to raising the concerns about the outsourcing of some customer service functions by banks, linking it to an increase in scamming on customer accounts.

“Then when you lodge your funds…the banks now give my money to a third party, to be collected, counted and credited to my account. My information is in the hands of a BPO operator without my knowledge or consent,” Montague told the House of Representatives.

“My information can be sold to lotto scammers. And as you know…now you have scamming in island, a new industry. Many people are seeing funds going missing from their accounts. Credit cards running up massive balances and all kinds of funny activities on their accounts. But the banks don’t hold themselves liable, they hold the people of western St Mary and other rural towns liable,” he said to approvals shown by desk banging from other Members of Parliament in agreement with him.

“And if you appeal to them for redress, they tell you all four, five months before you can get any redress. The minister of finance and the Bank of Jamaica, must act on this matter,” he continued.

“A banking licence…is a privilege, it’s not a right. The issuer of that licence, can rein in the entity. Don’t tell me the minister or the BOJ has no power. The Government always have a ‘big stick’ and they must use it on behalf of the people of Western St Mary. If you can’t use it against the banks which are licensed, how yuh run dung a taxi man who is also licensed. He has a licence, and we beat up on the taxi man when the service is not up to par, or when he breaches. Is it only that poor people we have strength for? If you cannot touch or rein in the banks, then don’t touch the taxi operator. There must be one rule, one principle for everybody, banker or taxi man. Madam Speaker, I am calling on the minister to use this moment to call in the banks. Give them 60 days to clean up their acts and treat their customers better. I am appealing to the minister to seize this moment. Seize the moment.”

But the issue of circumstances which expose customer accounts to fraud was not the only one the St Mary Western MP wants the minister of finance and the BOJ to look into.

“The people of Western St Mary are having a hard time with their banking needs as the commercial banks have all gone cashless and are charging fees as if they are going out of style,” Montague started as the precursor to outlining a slew of issues with banking in his constituency, and not for the first time. The matters he highlighted he said are not restricted to St Mary Western, but are endemic to the banking landscape across the island.

“We are of the view that the banks are putting profits over people,” he continued as ahead of reopening the can of worms involving fees levied on ‘dormant accounts’.

“Madam Speaker, when I put my money in a bank, I expect it to be kept safe, I expect the bank to lend it out and give a portion of the interest they charge the borrowers to me. I am told that the banks credit your accounts at least twice per year with this interest. If this be so, Madam Speaker, it means that every account has activity at least twice per year. If this is true, how then can an account become dormant? On what basis are they charging a dormancy fee? If there is no activity on the accounts, the banks need to tell us, what are they doing with the interest earn from these accounts,” he said.

“If they lend out people’s money and don’t give back a portion of the interest earned, it is not only fraud, it is downright robbery,” Montague thundered as he called on the Ministry of Finance and the BOJ to investigate and fine the banks, plus every dormancy fee charged over the last seven years must be returned with interest. If the banks refuse to pay back and stop the practice, then the minister must report the matter to the police.”

Montague said he was making the call because it is time for “the poor suffering bank customers get some redress.” The matter of banks “rushing” to go cashless or closing branches was also raised as was the lack of working automated teller machines (ATMs) to facilitate customer transactions that banks want to be conducted outside the banking hall.

“Today in Western St Mary…apart from Jamaica National operating three times per week, we have no commercial banks. We have to travel for miles to find an ATM, most times they are not working, yet there are no operating standards, and the people have to be standing in line with lots of cash and many times as yuh reach the machine, it bruk dung.”

But as he pressed the overseers of the financial sector, Montague made it clear that he was not calling “for any taxes on the banks or on their profits, just better customer service”.

“There must be operating standards, penalties if they are breached, abolishment of fees and they must build covers over the ATMs to accommodate at least 10 customers. We live in a tropical country. The sun can be merciless at times and the rain can fall at anytime. The banks must be held to a higher standard and they must give better service. The people of Western St Mary are asking for a longer transition period for the banks to go cashless. We agree that going cashless is the way of the future, but the move is too sudden. Older persons are being forced to expose their account information and pin, because they cannot manage the ATM process, not even me can do it.”

“People are at the ATMs now, willing and waiting to assist older persons, then them tief dem money. Many older Jamaicans don’t even want their children to know how much money in the bank account. Now they are being forced to handover this information to so-called ‘helpful strangers’ and the banks who create this problem are, again, blameless.”

“How can the minister sit down and allow the banks to be disrespecting ordinary Jamaicans. We have an institution that you issue a licence to, and they are refusing to accept legal tender, Jamaican tender that is issued by the Bank of Jamaica. If I go into the bank in Port Maria with a $20 or a $100 bill, they refuse to accept it and its not a counterfeit bill, it’s legal tender, and that is wrong. It is the same BOJ who issues the $100 bill, that issues their licences. So if they can accept the licence from the BOJ, they can accept the legal tender from the BOJ.”

“Madam Speaker, the people are suffering at the hands of these rapacious bankers. To the minister of finance, I say seize the moment, this is in your hands, and his hands are capable hands, and we are depending on him to act.”

But as he pleaded for intervention in the matter, Montague acknowledged that the response must be balanced, taking both the concerns of the consumers and the banks into mind.

He also pushed for more competition in the banking sector, in the hope that it will push existing banks to improve customer service.

“The minister of finance must…sit down with Minister [Aubyn] Hill and Jampro, and design a programme to seek out and attract other banks to come to Jamaica,” Montague said after outlining several issues with banking services he said he was presenting on behalf of his constituents in St Mary Western.

There are smaller, sound banks all over the southern US, in Canada or the UK. We can look to India or Singapore. The minister is aware, I know, that some of the world’s best and soundest banks are in Africa, we can invite them here. Because the kind of profits our banks are making, it wouldn’t be difficult for other banks to come here to try to make some of those profits.

He sent a thinly veiled threat that he will avail himself to any push by the people to get the situation remedied.

“The minister of finance, if he wants to cement his legacy must act now. I say to the minister, don’t let St Mary people turn this moment into a movement. With all the time on my hands, I can tell you, I won’t sit down and let the movement in St Mary leave me. I urge the minister to seize the moment. I believe, Madam Speaker, that enough has been said on this matter,” Montague closed.

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