Data error at Philippine bank sparks customer-panic

MANILA — Bank of the Philippine Islands blamed an internal data-processing error for inaccurate customer-account balances which caused a storm on social media, with reports of unauthorized withdrawals and missing funds.

Some deposit accounts did not reflect their correct balances because the processing error had caused past transactions to be either debited or credited twice, the third-largest Philippine lender by assets said in an advisory on Wednesday. BPI shares were little changed as of 11.18am in Manila after opening 1.9% lower.

“We have identified the root cause of this error, and are temporarily suspending access to electronic channels to speed up rectification,” BPI said in a second advisory. The problem would be fixed by the end of the day. “We wish to reassure our clients that this matter will be resolved expediently, and that none of them will lose money from this incident.”

The bank pinned its advisories to the top of its Twitter feed, which was inundated with posts from customers seeking answers or complaining that their account balances or banking services had been affected. One user, identified on her account as Mary Jane Nario, 22, said earlier: “As of the moment, most of my workmates and I have a negative balance on our BPI payroll account. Is this a system problem?”

Some posts speculated that the bank had been targeted by hackers, a rumour denied by BPI president Cezar Consing in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel. BPI took its system down on Wednesday morning to correct the error, which happened last night, Mr Consing said, adding that no customer would lose any money. 

BPI, the nation’s oldest bank, said in its second advisory that the system error caused transactions occurring between April 27 and May 2 to be double posted as of June 6.

The glitch will be investigated, central bank Deputy Governor Nestor Espenilla said in a mobile-phone text message, adding that Bangko Sentral Ng Pilipinas investigates “every single incident”. BPI should be allowed to resolve the problem, Mr Espenilla, who becomes the central bank govornor on July 3, told ABS-CBN separately.

BPI had 7.9 million clients and 1.4 trillion pesos ($28 billion) of deposits at the end of 2016, according to its annual report. The bank’s shareholders include Manila-based Ayala Corp, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila and Singapore’s GIC Private Ltd.

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