With 76% of the world’s population connected to one another and to information through mobile and other digital devices, it’s no surprise that consumers want access to information at any time and on their own terms, and this includes managing their financial information.

“The customer has become the driving force of change in the financial services industry. For Absa, this means responding appropriately to a customer base that is increasingly demanding convenience, choice and customised banking,” says Marius de la Rey, Chief Executive, Customer Channels & Distribution, Barclays Africa Retail and Business Banking.

While online and mobile banking have forever transformed the way people bank, the digital evolution has also increased the risk of fraud.

Customers who live their lives digitally are therefore continuously urged to become more vigilant about protecting their personal information when managing their day-to-day and monthly tasks such as the payment of debit orders.

“Unauthorised debit orders have become a huge challenge for all banks. Customers now have the ability to view and stop debit orders quickly and easily using online banking. In what is a first-to-market response by Absa, customers now also have the ability to personally reverse unauthorised debit orders at any time by logging on to Absa Online,” says Marius.

Absa customers have been empowered to view all debit orders that have gone off their accounts during a given period of time, request that any debit order that has taken place in the last 40 days be reversed (and they will receive the money back in their account instantly) as well as stop debit orders from going off their account in future.

The functionality to cancel unauthorised debit orders online is completely free for all Absa customers and available any time and any place.

According to data from the Payments Association of South Africa (PASA), South African banks collectively process approximately 56 million debit orders every month of which around 2% are disputed.

Many of these disputes are due to fraud and invalid mandates and the media regularly reports on complaints from customers who have been fleeced by way of unauthorised or fraudulent debit orders. PASA is working hard to crack down on this scourge, and since November 2013, about 300 rogue users have been taken off the debit order system, meaning they cannot have debit orders processed by any bank.

In line with the TCF (Treating Customers Fairly) principles, customers have a right to dispute an incorrectly concluded transaction and stop future transactions.

“Such debit orders can be reversed or disputed, with such instruction to prevent the debit order from being processed remaining on Absa’s system for a period of six months. After this, the service provider might attempt to debit the account again and it will be processed in terms of the rules of the payment stream,” says Marius.

It is therefore important that clients check their statements regularly for any fraudulent debits, which in most cases are very small amounts that can easily be missed.

Marius, however, cautions customers against cancelling debit orders in an attempt to manage their cash flow.

“Many consumers unjustly dispute debit orders when they are short of cash or run into financial difficulties. It is important for customers to note that, if they use the dispute process to manage cash flow, they run the risk of losing out on policy pay-outs when they claim, due to inconsistent payment history. Similarly, a high dispute ratio in a person’s account will lead to that person’s risk profile being negatively impacted,” he warns.

Some of the questions customers ask when they notice an unauthorised debit order include:

There’s an unauthorised debit order on my account. Can the bank reverse it?
Yes, the unauthorised debit order can be disputed with same day reversal if disputed within 40 days after the debit or thereafter with possible reversal within 30 days if a legitimate mandate cannot be produced by the collector.
Absa customers can reverse their debit orders by either visiting a branch or by simply logging on to Absa Online for a more convenient, self-help solution at no cost since this service is offered free of charge.

How long does it take for the reversal to be effected?
If a reversal is requested within 40 days after the debit has gone down, Absa will compensate the customer immediately. For disputes lodged after 40 days, Absa cannot guarantee compensation as the collector has the right to present a valid mandate within 30 days, failing which, the transaction will be reversed. The customer cannot hold the bank liable if a valid mandate is produced.

How do I make sure that this issue is permanently resolved?
As part of Absa’s newly introduced online debit order functionality, customers can activate a stop payment instruction themselves. The instruction will remain in force for 6 months after which time the transaction is viewed as cancelled.

What is Absa doing to make sure that unauthorised debit orders are prevented from going through in future?
This is a joint relationship between the customer and Absa, and customers must remain vigilant and monitor their accounts for unauthorised debit orders on an ongoing basis. The debit order reversal, stop and authorisation feature is now available online to existing and new Absa customers at www.absa.co.za