Guilty Till Death Do You Part

Unmasked: The gangsters of capitalism

The bank that is always ready to peddle its help.

In Brief

  • In 2008 Nav Chan opened a Platinum Cheque Account with FNB. By February 2011 he had combined monthly credit limit of over a quarter of a million Rand
  • A simple query by Chan to the bank regarding possible manipulation of his eBucks calculations made him a marked man.
  • Rather than deal with the enquiry, the bank threw Chan to the curb: two weeks after his enquiry, his Premier Manager in Durban sent a divorce letter that effectively cancelled his credit cards
  • Chan lodged a case with the Ombudsman for Banking Services where a coin was tossed in FNB’s favour
  • Months later, Chan was surprised to find that one bank branch in Durban still maintained his profile as clean – he proceeded, and successfully made applications for fresh credit cards

 What is it… what is it that makes it so hard for banks and their executives to admit to their screw-ups? …that makes them seek every unorthodox means to financially decapitate their clients? …that makes them above the law and beyond ethics and morals? …that makes them inseparable from the greed culture? It has become more comfortable to visit the local dentist than to pay that visit to our banks. With fewer and fewer tellers in operation, the banking halls are increasingly flooded with individuals bearing tags describing themselves as ‘consultants’. In the backrooms, rather than watching over and safeguarding the funds entrusted to them by their clients, they are busy working out schemes to take extra Rands … a little here and more there from those very clients. But if you dare complain about their machinations, they would surely unleash their goons to cause you every imaginable kind of financial harm…

“Don’t question our ways or we shall screw you!” seems to be the unwritten code that guides most banks today. And you’d better pray they don’t get to exercise that prerogative, especially if you are a small fish. When opening bank accounts, potential clients are usually taken through rigorous processes consisting of: “Initial here, here and here, and then sign here.” Those are the pages containing their Ts&Cs. These final processes are generally arrived at after clients have been waiting in the queue for several hours. How many of us pause to read through those tons of pages detailing their ways of ripping clients off? Some of these Ts&Cs are actually adjusted there and then as they work out more ways to rip off their banking clients.

Well, it would be reasonable to argue that one has no obligation to accept the Ts&Cs. But when dealing with bankers, most of whom are worse than robots fitted with microchips, reason and logic have no part to play. If you fail to initial your acceptance to any of the pages, OUT you are cast.

FNB's e-Bucks

eBucks is supposedly a reward scheme offered by First National Bank (FNB). It is not quite clear how the Rewards (points) of these electronic-bucks are calculated and actually earned. As we attempted to get behind e-Bucks and the FNB, uSpiked team members suffered great hormonal imbalance – put plainly, we found ourselves ageing faster than normal.

The same, however, cannot be said of a 39-year old Nav Chan. The years he spent in Chicago US must have led him to believe that the e-bucks were related to the colloquialism of bucks, referring to the dollar. So the big-mouthed [that is how he describes himself and there are records to back it up] Chan, a computer engineering graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology and a holder of a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago, crunched his numbers – and they didn’t add up… but we shall get to that shortly.

Chan described to uSpiked’s team how his not-so-young parents had emotionally blackmailed him into returning to South Africa to help build his country. As it happened, the parents didn’t need to motivate their son too much as the financial crisis was already biting the Land of the Free [once again, that was thanks to the greed culture perfected by banks and their executives].

“I arrived here to be faced with the glacial pace of business and realised that even with so much changing, it still had that old bullshit racial touch to everything. As my family handles a lot of commercial warehouse rentals in Durban, I was put to work to handle all complaints and oversight of rental agreements.”

That family job (not related to anything he had spent years studying in the USA) ensured that his living standard was well above that of most South Africans. With an income reflecting a few zeros (making him a dream client for bankers), FNB found him worthy to be accorded ‘Platinum’ status.

On 21 November 2008, FNB allowed him to open a Platinum Cheque Account. He also operated a Business Cheque Account with the same bank. Three months after the opening of the Platinum Cheque Account, he was issued with a Discovery Credit Card (on 6 February 2009) with a monthly credit limit that was subsequently increased to R126,000.00.

Discovery may be a medical scheme company, but until not so long ago FirstRand Ltd, that owns FNB, also owned 57% of Discovery’s shares. FirstRand in effect may have announced the unbundling from Discovery, but corporate executives of certain profitable companies, as usual, make little announcement when the entities divorce.

Back to Chan. On 13 November 2009, FNB approved and issued him with a Platinum Credit Card with a subsequent monthly credit limit of R90,000.00.

On 21 February, 2011, he was issued with a Kulula credit card with another monthly credit limit of R45,000.00, also underwritten by FNB. In essence, according to First National Bank, Chan, the Platinum Client, was good for a combined monthly credit limit of well over a quarter of a million Rand.

According to various communications from both Chan and FNB, he never defaulted on any single payment. But all those great records were to be significantly watered down when his big mouth turned him into a marked man. When he crunched the numbers for his supposed eBucks earnings, Chan found inconsistencies with whatever formula FNB was using.

Having grown up with his parents’ teachings that every coin counted towards a great future, Chan put his big mouth to work. On 2 November 2012, he queried the formula with the eBucks’ call centre. “The issue was that despite the assurance of supposed earning of eBucks, my earning capacity had been put at a lower level.”

eBucks can be used to make purchases at selected outlets. If he was capable of spending a quarter of a million per month, calculated as initially promised, his eBucks earnings could feed several homes or take quite a few bankers for holidays. So Chan was now rocking the boat that sustains the fancy holidays and handsome bonuses of bank executives.

The call centre ‘consultant’ who took his call (Ref. no. 1935752041) advised him to take the matter up with his Platinum banker. [Clients like Chan have designated personal bankers who handle their affairs].

His complaint was escalated to what FNB calls Core Banking Solutions. Two weeks after he filed his query regarding possible manipulation of his eBucks calculations, a Teresa Hojem, Premier Manager, Premier Durban, in an email dated 16 November 2012, forwarded a ‘Termination of Banking Relationship’ letter jointly signed by Rhoda Moodley (Head of Risk: Core Banking Solutions) and Nicolaas Van Staden (Head of Credit Risk: Credit Card). Clearly, Chan’s big mouth was something FNB could happily do without.

The haste with which these executives tried to rid themselves of Chan is evident in how little they actually knew of their client. The letter provided Chan’s address as 1 Kew Heights, Kew 2090. Firstly, this isn’t a comprehensive address like banks are expected to have in their records for clients as stipulated by the Financial Intelligence Centre Act No 38 of 2001.

Secondly, the Postal Code contained in the letter indicated that Chan resided somewhere in Johannesburg area. In fact, he lives in Durban – KwaZulu Natal Province, not Gauteng. So to whom were they addressing their message, and why was this termination letter surfacing so shortly after he had queried their dubious calculations of the promised eBucks?

Chan pointed the additional errors to the Premier Manager and a week later another letter of Termination of Banking Relationship’ was forwarded to him, but this time signed off only by Rhoda Moodley. Without any apologies for their earlier cock-up, Moodley alluded to some suspected fraudulent activities without providing any specific details. The claimed activities were supposed to have occurred several months earlier when he had applied for an increase on his credit limits.

Chan was being sacked by FNB. The Platinum Client wasn’t worth the trouble. This second letter was very soon followed by others from Discovery and Kulula (dated on the same day) and Platinum Credit Card (dated a day after).

The three Credit Cards Termination Leters were later delivered to him by registered mail... but all posted days after the termination order was meant to have taken effect:




All sent providing the same return address with similar handwriting...

Thanks to our super-intelligent data processing and analysis system, we can disclose that the FNB executives are either stupid or plain arrogant. Besides the convenience of the different documents being prepared within hours of each other, going by the fonts and layout and other hidden marks, our system suspected that they had been created by the same person and most likely from the same workstation. To confirm our system’s suspicions, we checked the metadata and there it was: an FNB insider had acted on behalf of Kulula, Discovery and Platinum Credit Card. Does FNB keep scanned signatures of key executives of their partners, to be affixed to documents at will?

Not being the type to give up, Chan opened a case with the office of the Ombudsman for Banking Services. Chan should have known better: Adv. Clive Pillay and his small team are plainly a bunch of window dressers for big banks. The learned fella had previously confessed to one of our team members that since they don’t have enough investigators, whenever they receive complaints from banks’ clients, it is simply a matter of tossing the coin.

But unlike the normal coin-flipping where the contesting parties stand equal chances of heads or tails, Pillay’s coin-tossing usually allows the banks to make their calls after the coin has landed.

However, the computer engineer still wasn’t done. Months into his fight with FNB’s Core Business Solutions (who had allocated him a property in Johannesburg), Chan was taken aback to discover that the Florida Road Branch in Durban still maintained his profile as clean. To test the effectiveness of the FNB system, he decided to make applications for fresh credit cards, and those were promptly granted.

 ***As Global Greed Series continues, we visit the tribulations of Nav Chan as he discovers his listing by FNB as a suspected fraudster in an illegal database while the same bank happily maintains a convicted fraudster, Schabir Shaik – yes, that same medical parolee - as a Private Client at its 267 Florida Road, Morningside 4001 branch.


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