Wednesday, June 08, 2005

When Bankers Go Wild - Standard Chartered

The online banking scene in Singapore can be pretty frustrating, with mediocre offerings and limited features. Recently however, Standard Chartered appeared to be offering something akin to the wonderful ING Direct, which is unfortunately not available here.

The new online only account from Standard Chartered is called e$aver, and offers the highest interest rate in town for a demand deposit. As a long time customer, I immediately logged on and attempted to open an account.

Which is when things started to go all pear shaped. To recap, I am an existing customer using an existing secure connection to access online banking. First step to place a deposit is to open a new account.

OK, I can see that it needs a separate account number, but why do I need to re-enter all my personal data? I have been a customer for 10 years.

All questions are compulsory, so if you don't answer, no account

Mobile phone number. No mobile phone, no account.

Employer, annual salary, net worth, annual income...

Hey wait a minute, I am trying to DEPOSIT money, not borrow it. Why the third degree on what would be barely passable questions for a credit card application?

It gets better.

Gender, Race. Now what the hell does gender and race have to do with bank deposits? Does Standard Chartered plan on offering differential rates and services depending on your race?

With weekly revelations of data loss by major financial institutions, this kind of data harvesting overkill is inexcusable. If you answered every question, you would be completely vulnerable to identity theft.

When I questioned the customer service rep as to why they needed so much information from an existing customer to make a DEPOSIT, she said it was a 9/11 "know your customer" regulation of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. When I suggested that it was pretty far fetched to suggest that terrorists or those funding terrorists could be identified by gender or race, things got quiet.

Perhaps bankers in Singapore are unfamiliar with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in article 2 states:

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Next stop was the MAS web site to see if there was anything concrete about information required of customers. The menus didn't provide anything, but the search engine threw up a document that looks like it covers the subject of prevention of money laundering - MAS 626. A quick read and nope, nothing about gender or race as an indicator of malfeasance.

One pretty reasonable sentence, "
The list is intended solely as an aid, and must not be applied as a routine instrument in place of common sense.", and one slightly scary sentence, "It is justifiable to suspect any customer who is reluctant to provide normal information and documents required routinely by the bank in thecourse of the business relationship."

That last one is tough. If you try and question the bank's unrestrained data collection, you risk being labelled a money launderer.

The ultimate remedy remains taking your business where it is safe and welcome.

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