At today’s British Bankers’ Association’s annual conference, Which? will outline why banks should be doing more to protect their customers from bank transfer scams. While much has changed since the days of the financial crash, there’s still work to be done…
The crisis that started in the US subprime mortgage market 10 years ago rocked the international banking industry and led to a breakdown in faith in the system across the board.
Consumer trust in financial services had already been damaged by the PPI mis-selling scandal, low levels of competition and poor customer service.
With bankers ranking even lower in the public’s mind than estate agents and politicians, many thought the sector would never recover.
A decade on, and a lot has changed.
In 2010, I established the Future of Banking Commission, chaired by David Davis MP, to investigate the banking crisis, and with many of our recommendations now adopted, trust in the industry has risen.
We’ve seen a new and more powerful regulator in the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which has made a real difference to the way consumer banking issues are addressed. Moves to tackle banking culture have started to pay off. And emerging app-based banks, such as Starling, Monzo and Atom, are joining TSB and Metro Bank in challenging the status quo.
We should recognise that progress has been made. But this is no time for bankers to rest on their laurels.
The last decade has not only been about attempts to fix the mess of the financial crisis. We’ve also witnessed a huge shift in consumer behaviour as the majority of us moved to banking online. This has brought enormous benefits as people can easily make transactions and better understand their spending patterns.
But it also carries risks. One of the biggest is that scammers can quickly con victims into transferring their hard-earned cash out of their bank account. Once the money has gone, the victims soon find there is little chance of getting it back from the banks involved.
Bank transfer scams
Since we made a super-complaint about bank transfer scams to the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) last September, we’ve heard hundreds of stories of how people have lost life-changing amounts of money this way. Collectively, they were scammed out of £5.5m.
Take the couple defrauded out of £47,000 when putting a deposit down to buy a house. They received what appeared to be a genuine email from their solicitor with instructions on how to pay.
The fraudster opened an account with a prominent high street bank and used it to steal this couple’s cash.
Despite the fact that almost £50,000 was being transferred to an account the couple had never paid into before, the bank raised no questions about the transaction. Within a few hours, the fraudster cleared the account – again, no questions asked.
Banks’ customers have been losing large amounts of money to these types of scams for some time now. And as more of us bank online and scammers become ever more sophisticated, this could grow and grow.
Last month, we wrote to the banks to ask them what preventative measures they’ve put in place following our super-complaint.
Although they’ve started to use more explicit warning messages and have attempted to raise awareness and educate their customers, they seem to be suggesting that the solution is that customers should be ever more vigilant and spot scam themselves. Even in situations where they know people are vulnerable.
If this is to be the limit of the industry’s response, then it suggests they haven’t fully learnt the lessons of the financial crisis. Surely if that taught us anything, it was that banks need to be on the front foot, championing consumer interests and addressing their customers’ issues rather than waiting for regulators or governments to force change.
At today’s British Bankers’ Association conference, we hope to hear first-hand from the industry about how they will step up and be assured that more is planned to address these awful scams.
We all need to be reassured that the industry has truly changed.
Do you think banks are doing enough for their customers? What more could banks do to protect consumers from scams?
This is an edited version of Peter’s original article for The Telegraph, published online on Thursday 29 June 2017.