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The headquarters of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) in Makati City. (Photo: Alvin I. Dacanay)

Congress, BSP to probe BPI on 2-day tech glitch

By Riza Lozada 

A computer glitch that lasted for two days had resulted in huge problems for the Ayala Group’s banking arm, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), including a possible congressional probe. 

The glitch affected thousands of the bank’s customers who can’t access their accounts online or over the counter for nearly the entire two days the problem persisted.

The bank suspended electronic channels for a second day last Thursday to fix a systems glitch.

BPI depositors have complained of losing a significant amount of money to unauthorized withdrawals, while others discovered staggering amounts deposited in their accounts.

Some have said that their accounts were either debited or credited twice for a previous transaction.

One client narrated having the biggest shock of her life after discovering that her savings had ballooned to more than P12.4 billion overnight as a result of the glitch.

As of Thursday morning, the bank assured that it is “exerting all efforts” to correct the balances of accounts with mis-posted transactions.

“We have isolated the cause of our systems error. We expect complete restoration of services very soon, as we fully recognise your requirements ahead of the coming long weekend, including transactions via our electronic channels,” the bank said in its latest advisory.

“To allow us to do necessary adjustments, we will need to de-activate our electronic channels today,” BPI said Thursday.

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel lll said he would seek an inquiry into the alleged computer glitch.

Pimentel said the computer fiasco is a dangerous occurrence even as the BPI assured the public that the so-called internal data processing error was not a case of hacking as spontaneously reported by social media users in their public accounts.

He said the proposed Senate inquiry will delve into the bank’s security protocols, adding the root cause of the data error must be fully explained by BPI to reassure the public that a similar incident would not occur again in the future.

Pimentel said local banks must be on the lookout for a possible cyber attack as hackers worldwide have already victimized a number of banking institutions despite safeguard measures to pre-empt the commission of the crime.

A member of the House of Representatives filed a resolution calling for a congressional inquiry into the security and stability of local banks’ internal systems following the problem that faced BPI.

Ako Bicol Partylist Rep. Rodel Batocabe filed House Resolution 1072, which directed the committee on banks and financial intermediaries to conduct a probe on the BPI “internal system error”, which he said sparked “considerable panic” among its customers.

Batocabe said the internal error has worsened the “already unstable public perception regarding security of our institutions”.

“We need to conduct an investigation to find out about the root cause of the BPI internal error and to determine the most suitable safeguards in order to prevent such future incident happening not only in BPI but in other banks and financial institutions,” Batocabe added.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said it will also conduct an investigation.

“We’ll investigate. For now, BPI assures us this is not a hack and problem will be fixed today and no one will lose money,” BSP Deputy Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. said.

The Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP), meanwhile, said it expresses full support andconfidence in the efforts of BPI to resolve the internal system issues they encountered as they now proceed to fully restore normal service operations.“In general, while system glitches are not uncommon, banks are fully equipped to cope with such and continue business transactions. We do not believe that this incident will affect the Bank’s ability to service its customers,” a BAP statement said.“Suffice it to say, we believe that BPI remains a sound financial institution and that the public can remain confident in the banking industry ‘s efforts to ensure deliver y of secure services,” it added.

BPI senior vice-president Cathy Santamaria decribed the technical problem encountered by the bank as “an internal issue.”

‘There is a lot of rumor about… hacking or a scam. It has nothing to do with that,” she said.

She added there’s no money that physically went in or physically went out. “It’s a system data error (and) money is still in the bank,” she added.

Ms Santamaria added that transactions from April 27 to May 2 this year apparently had been repeated, so customers now see money deducted or added to their accounts.

Affected accounts were being corrected “client by client”. “For those who have extra credit, please don’t touch the money. It will be debited from your account,”Ms Santamaria said.

“It was really an error. We’re still assessing if it was a specific human error that got into the processing,” she added.

“Please accept our deepest apologies as our electronic channels (ATMs, Express Online, and mobile app) remain deactivated as we aim to resolve the matter at the soonest time possible,” the bank said in an earlier statement.

”We assure you that the integrity of your accounts will be maintained. We thank you for your continued patience as we work to resolve this internal system issue satisfactorily,” it added.

The flawed information was noticed early Wednesday by some BPI account holders and news about it broke like a wildfire.

Santamaria said the error affected “only some” of their eight million clients.

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