Bank of Baroda prides itself on digital transformation. Its crown jewel is a new app called bob World. But bank employees say they have had to adopt fraudulent means and compromise bank accounts’ safety to boost registrations on its app.
BoB employees from various states say mobile numbers of staff were linked to customers’ bank accounts to register these accounts on the app. In this story, whistleblowers explain how the bank went about registering customers on bob world. Read the story here.
Mobile numbers of bank’s employees, sanitation and security workers were linked to bank accounts that didn’t have registered phone numbers. Then these accounts were signed up on bob World. Each number was linked to multiple accounts to sign up all of them on the app.
The staff immediately unregistered these accounts from the app. Under RTI, we asked BoB how many accounts were registered and how many unregistered. The bank said it's a trade secret. But when the app was launched, the press release boasted of more than 50 lakh users in 2 weeks.
Last year, a Twitter user shared that his mobile number was registered with 100 BoB accounts in the span of a week. What if the person were a rogue character.
According to BoB’s internal emails, about 62,000 accounts in Bhopal zone alone were linked to about 1,300 mobile numbers last year. On an average, one number linked with 47 accounts. Also, many numbers were linked with more than a 100 accounts.
In these emails, BoB acknowledges the risk of fraud and asks branches to do a hush-hush inquiry about the numbers that must be unlinked from accounts.
This didn’t happen in the Bhopal zone alone. Another whistleblower, who works at an RO in another state, says he himself unlinked duplicate numbers from accounts. (We have proof of this clean-up.) Most of these numbers, he says, were found to be that of bank staff.
He says it’s common for bank staff to enter their own mobile number while opening an account if the customer does not have a mobile phone. For bob World enrollment drive, he says, higher offices asked the bank staff to sign up all such accounts on the app.
This whistleblower also presided over the enrollment drive in a branch. He says ideas for ‘shortcuts’ to meet targets would come from the higher offices over the phone.
He says the RO would also send branches a list of customers of the same family and with the same registered mobile number. Convince one customer, get multiple app registrations. An employee of a rural branch shared such a list with us.
There’s more. If an amenable customer has only a basic phone, his/her SIM card is inserted in the branch's tablet or an employee's smartphone, and then the account is registered on bob World.
An officer from Rajasthan says his branch adopted another workaround: a campaign to open zero-balance accounts. It attracted workers and labourers, who were signed up on bob World without consent while opening the accounts.
A retired BoB executive says he visited many branches in his area and learnt first-hand about such foul play. He also found that some branches bought new SIM cards to add to accounts and sign them up on bob World. He has sent multiple emails to the management about these issues.
One of his emails reads: “Activation of bob World is given so much pressure that almost a fraud-like situation is arising and in the accounts of customers, mobile number of branch head is updated for activation… A very big fraud is in the offing.”
Bank of Baroda is India's second largest government bank and has won awards for Best Technology Bank (2021) and Best Bank in Fintech Initiative ('21, '22). The bank denies any wrongdoing in bob World enrollment but has not disputed any evidence we presented in the story.
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