The banker’s duty of secrecy (2)…Common Mistakes that Bankers should Avoid

Having identified the four exceptions that enable bankers to divulge customers’ information to third parties, some bankers still erroneously divulge information without thinking of the consequences. In all things, the “Tournier” principles still runs supreme in any court of law.
Bankers, especially front liners, please read through some of the simple mistakes that we make and pledge to avoid it. Remember that even if the account is terminated either by closure, death or bankruptcy, our lips should still be sealed, unless under the four exceptions:  where compelled by (1) law, (2) public duty, (3) the interest of the bank, or (4) where the client had consented, even implicitly, to disclosure
Tournier vrs National Provincial and Union Bank of England [1924] was a landmark legal case in the United Kingdom. It established the conditions under which banks owed confidentiality to their clients allowing four circumstances wherein banks were not required to guard privacy: where compelled by
 (1) Law
(2) Public duty
(3) The interest of the bank
(4) Where the client had consented
even implicitly to disclosure.
These principles still hold good today.
1.       “There goes one of our key customers! My bank gave him GHc3m to make some supplies to the Ministry of Commerce. Its two years now. The funds were diverted and the supply was never made! Guess what? He is using his funds to finance politicians. You cannot even dare to touch him”. This was said in a taxi by a banker to her best friend. Apparently the taxi driver knows the customer very well. You can imagine what became of the lady.
2.       Leaving copies of Account opening documents in the Photocopier overnight instead of shredding them. (Examples are passports, Voter IDs, Drivers’ licences, Business Registration documents, etc) it could have fallen into the wrong hands and been duplicated in full colour and used for fraudulent purposes! 
3.       Oops! With a click on the computer, you have inadvertently emailed to your customer, an attachment meant for another! This is obviously a misdirected email!
4.       Loudly discussing a customer’s business transactions at the front desk in full view and hearing of other customers waiting in the banking hall. For example he is travelling that night and needs to purchase a fairly big amount of dollars in cash to carry along. Other clients sitting and watching can follow him after he has been served, may track him to his house for the usual “Midnight  Visitation”…..sometimes leaving him dead! BE CAREFUL as you owe a duty of care to your customers, apart from the duty of secrecy.  Of course, in his era of digital banking, no customer should be advised to do that.
5.       Not identifying a customer before giving out account information. Sometimes you may be under pressure. Unfortunately there are a few stories of identical twins playing pranks on bankers, and impersonating each other! Going digital is bringing an end to such situations.
6.      Shouting a customer’s name and balance across the counter, within the hearing of third parties. In communities where the illiteracy rate is high, some customers continue to request account details at the counter! Discretion is advised.
7.       Handing out information to a “Known Agent” for delivery to a customer, without confirming it is done with the consent of the account holder.
8.       For illiterates who still make calls to their bank for enquiries on their accounts, bank staff need to be extra cautious. For example in trying to help, you may not confirm and check a customer’s credentials if the voice on the telephone is unrecognizable (eg. his address, approximate balance, last cheque issued, etc.) before giving out information on the phone.
9.       Providing customer with debit cards (ATM) – but mistakenly linking the cards to someone else’s account. .Data entry error. The wrongful beneficiary can empty the account immediately if he/she finds out, and is facilitated by the ‘SMS’ banking notices!
  1. Your customer, Mrs Kofi, has moved house and also wrote to the bank giving details of her new address. The bank did not change the details in the system and her statement of account was posted to the same old address instead of the new one. The owner of the new box number opened the envelope by mistake. However, since she knew the original owner, she returned it to her and apologized for mis-reading the addressee. The statement showed that Mrs Kofi’s account was overdrawn, with some cheques dishonoured! She is furious and embarrassed.. These cases were found before e-banking, but still happens when e-statements are being mailed to customers. Despite the security features, fraudsters can find a way round them.
11.    Out of pity, you divulge bank balances to surviving children of your customer who have no Letters of Administration.
12.    A beneficiary of a cheque overhears the Teller and her Supervisor at the back office discussing the unhealthy operation of the account holder’s account which is severely overdrawn. The beneficiary, who happens to be the ex-wife of the customer, returns to him with anger, throws the “bounced” cheque at him, sparking an argument and taunts about his “unhealthy” banking transactions. The customer is embarrassed and threatens to close his account.
13.   Unknowingly revealing bank details of a customer to a spouse or children. The wife and relatives have no right to know the customer’s banking affairs.
14.   Three salary workers enter the bank manager’s office to discuss the possibility of a salary advance against their pay voucher which is covered by their company’s cheque awaiting maturity. The bank manager checks the pay advices and discusses each applicant’s   loan details in the presence of the other. He did not caution them about their implied consent in coming together in his office to discuss their individual banking needs. Unknowingly their salaries are different. Eventually one of them returns to the Financial Controller at his office demanding to know the reason for his salary being lower than his colleagues! The Financial Controller calls the bank manager to know what happened! Breach of secrecy.
15.   On one of your loan recovery exercises, you were unable to meet your defaulting customer in his home. You inform his wife, who is not a Director of the Company, about the husband’s loan defaults. His wife is shocked at the revelations and threatens his husband with divorce!
Dear Bankers, all these inadvertent disclosures are due to the power of the Mouth and Pen.
When you are confronted with a dilemma on secrecy, just shake yourself out of the confusion,  do a quick check and remember the “Tournier” Case. Ask yourself, is it falling within the Tournier Principles? If yes, fine. If no, keep quiet.  If you are not sure, refer to your Supervisor or to your Legal Department.
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations ethics and fraud.
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Tel: +233-0244333051/+233-0244611343

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