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Republic Bank customers continue to speak out about the “Great Withdrawal”

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The recent revelation of delayed debits by Republic Bank (EC) Limited has stirred concerns across the Eastern Caribbean islands, prompting frustration among customers left with unexpected charges dating back over a year. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) has taken steps to address these concerns impartially.

 

Republic Bank Limited’s technical issue, which led to delayed debits, has significantly impacted many customers’ lives. The bank has attributed the delay to a conversion exercise, which affected the timely processing of point-of-sale and e-commerce transactions. Despite the bank’s assurance that the issue has been resolved, the incident has caused inconvenience and uncertainty for customers, who have been unexpectedly charged for transactions dating back over a year.

 

Recognising the significance of the issue, the ECCB has acknowledged that some of its staff members have been impacted. In response, the ECCB has engaged in discussions with Republic Bank (EC) Limited to mitigate the effects on customers. For its part, Republic Bank (EC) Limited has pledged to address customer concerns promptly, offering flexibility for those requiring extended settlement periods and encouraging dialogue to rectify any transaction inaccuracies.

 

Despite efforts to reassure customers, the delayed debit situation has led to widespread dissatisfaction, particularly among individuals from Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. Many customers have expressed surprise at unexpected transaction charges dating back several years, prompting calls for transparency and accountability.

 

Republic Bank has acknowledged the seriousness of the situation in its official statement, attributing the delays to a technical error stemming from the conversion process. The bank has emphasised its commitment to resolving customer concerns promptly, undertaking a thorough verification process to ensure accuracy in transaction listings and offering payment plans to alleviate financial strain for affected individuals.

 

The delayed debit incident at Republic Bank has affected customer confidence and raised broader concerns about the reliability and accountability of financial institutions in the region. Customers expect banks to safeguard their funds and uphold transparency and efficiency in transaction processing. This incident serves as a stark reminder for banks to prioritise robust infrastructure and risk management practices to prevent similar incidents in the future.

 

The incident underscores the importance of regulatory oversight in safeguarding consumer interests. The ECCB’s response underscores its commitment to upholding financial stability within the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, advocating for measures to mitigate the adverse impact on affected individuals and prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

 

Financial institutions must learn from this experience and implement measures to enhance operational resilience and customer communication. Transparency, accountability, and proactive risk management must remain central tenets of banking practices to ensure consumers’ continued trust and confidence in the financial system.

 

Tara Carter, a lawyer and real estate developer out of Anguilla, an affected customer of the “Great Withdrawal” from Republic Bank and an advocate for other affected people, gave her a synopsis of the situation from her view.

 

“The bigger point in all of this, Terrence, is that we have a licensed financial institution that admits to having technical errors, computer-related errors because I have some other errors that aren’t even related to this that I’ve been investigating. Then they post all of these charges on the same date for 2022 2021, and I’ve seen some customers all the way back to 2020. I don’t remember where I ate in 2020.

 

“If you take me through the ticket that I signed and I see that you forgot to take it out, I’ll pay you. But right now, all I have is a reconstructed statement that tells me I did these things all in one day. So I’m sitting in the US, and I see my card starting to run for charges at restaurants, hotels, different dates, all on the same day, and I said, well, my utility bill, it’s a fundamental breach of their contract for services with us, because my contract for services says, as a customer, I have 30 days to validate and verify a transaction.

 

“I’ve been to the grocery store where my card has been swiped twice by mistake, and I’ve had to verify it, and it had to be undone because these things happen. If you post these things three years later, how do I verify and exercise my rights under my contract for services? And my contract for services with you as posted on your site, and every country has the same contract for services; I will share it with you after. It says that you absorb the losses if you have a technical error, and that’s for good commercial sense because you’re saying to me, I’m sorry, I made a mistake on your account, and I can’t expect you to bear the loss three years later.

 

“And the truth is, had they generated conversations and invited people in to do this respectfully and explained that there was an error, I’m sure customers would have been reasonable and honest” – said Carter during the May 13, 2024, broadcast of WINN’s “Money Matters” featuring three women affected by the “Great Withdrawal”.

 

Carter said she refused to reconcile her purchases to validate the charges made by Republic Bank.

 

“At this stage, I have not reconstructed mine as yet because I asked an auditor who has been hit, how are you reconciling it? I can’t afford an accountant. I said, what do we do to reconcile these balances? Do you [want to] know how an auditor is doing it? She’s looking at photographs from Facebook to see if she was at Four Seasons two years ago.

 

“She’s looking at her email to see if she had appointments for certain medical stuff that’s on there. And I’m not doing it, Terrence. I’m not reconciling an accounting statement from a bank by looking at photographs to see if I was [in] an Uber in the United States on the same day you say I was at Four Seasons. I’m not doing it.”

 

The Anguilla lawyer also outlined some things the bank is doing to influence its customers in handling the situation, including an up to two-year loan.

 

“I had a young gentleman that just asked me to say this to you, and then you can see what you think about it. He said he just received; he was on the protest line. He said he just received a call from Republic from a young man [who] asked him, can you come in and sit down and have a one-on-one with us? We would like to get a better understanding. And when you come in, we would like you to walk in with your pay slips for the last two months and a job letter. Click.

 

“I didn’t call you for a loan. What they’re doing, Terrence is using undue influence to have people now feel that they have no option but to come in and accept a two-year loan interest-free to pay back money that we never authorised you to take. And what they’re doing to force you to come in, which I realised they did to me last night (May 12), I just realised it, is that they are freezing your other accounts that might have money in the exact amount. So right now, if I log in, and I’ve printed it because I’m [going to] be evidence-based when I log in, there is a separate account that I have [that] has nothing to do with the overdrawn account that they have frozen. They have frozen it up to the amount that they say I’m overdrawn by, and they’re still reflecting the overdraft as well.”

 

Many have called on the ECCB to step in as the regulatory body to address this issue. Carter questioned ECCB’s role in this matter.

 

“I think it is remiss of the ECCB to not do what you’re supposed to do. You are the regulatory body, and you’re supposed to make sure that the bank is doing what it’s supposed to do. One of the jobs of the ECCB is they’re also supposed to receive the audits and all of these things at the end of the year… who has been properly auditing and recording the financials for Republic Bank?

 

“One or two things, it’s either that they’re not doing it, or nobody is making sure that they are doing it. And if they are doing it, then what are they doing with the information that they would have received? Because I find it hard to believe. I am in business, and I have to produce my business statements every month, every single month, or you will be backed up for the entire year because you could go to the supermarkets yesterday and [forget] what you bought.

 

“Because that’s just life for you. So, can you imagine a bank that has so many different facets, and they are not doing what they’re supposed to do when it took them two years to realise that this account is empty? And they’re saying that they paid out the accounts on behalf of the customers. Really? So you’re just taking from Peter to pay Paul, and you’re not replenishing Peter? So who’s making these decisions?”

 

Host of “Money Matters”, Dr Terrance Martin, questioned the lack of response from the various governments of affected countries.

 

Carter suggests that all customers affected around the region continue to put pressure on Republic Bank. ECCB, the government, should continue the conversation and not just let the situation go without redress.

 

Check out the show where the affected customers go further on Republic Bank’s “Great Withdrawal”.

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