Red flagged by the bank
One Sudanese Kiwi found herself trapped by tougher money laundering rules when she tried to open an account
ANew Zealand woman born in Sudan, was left feeling racially profiled after she went to ASB to open a bank account.
Afaf Amir took her New Zealand passport along as identification to the Albany Mall branch to open an account.
Her husband and four of her children have accounts with the bank, but after leaving the branch, Amir heard her name being called as she walked through the Mall.
She was being chased by an ASB teller, who summoned her back to the branch to be told the account she’d opened would be closed, unless she could produce proof of where her ‘‘wealth’’ came from.
Heads turned. She felt like a criminal being chased for suspected shoplifting.
‘‘It was unprofessional. She’s running to catch up to me, shouting my name.’’
In the branch, she said she was told she needed to produce proof of income.
‘‘I told them I’m a housewife. I said I’m a New Zealand citizen. I have lived here for 15 years, and I have my passport. She said it didn’t matter.’’
She and her husband qualified to come to New Zealand in 2002 as skilled migrants.
Amir asked to speak to the manager. He told her the requirement was because she was from Sudan.
She told him: ’’I don’t have a Sudanese passport. I said I was born there, but I am a New Zealander. He ignored my talking.’’
And that’s where it ended, until her son mentioned her experience to his boss Sam Stubbs at low-cost KiwiSaver provider Simplicity, who in turn contacted Sunday Star-Times.
Amir felt she had been discriminated against, and racially profiled.
Others have shared her experience, she says, and the family is now considering moving from ASB to another bank, perhaps ANZ, where Amir currently has an account.
Banks are required by law to have systems in place to prevent them being used for money laundering and the financing of terrorism, known collectively as anti-money laundering (AML) processes.
Part of ASB’s is a ‘‘red flag’’ system, that alerts staff to seek more information from people with certain nationalities, even if they also have New Zealand citizenship.
Banks don’t publish lists of red flagged countries, but Sudan is listed as an ‘‘extreme risk’’ by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
‘‘There is a general threat of terrorism in Sudan, including in Khartoum,’’ the Ministry says. ‘‘Terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by westerners. ‘‘
ASB’s Georgina Bond said: ‘‘Under AML, some countries do present a possibility of heightened risk, for example, terrorism and money laundering, and they cause flags to be raised for the bank.
‘‘In these instances, the bank is required to also obtain, and verify in writing, information about the source of the customer’s wealth/income.’’
‘‘We understand in some instances, AML requirements do create additional processes for customers. If a customer finds themselves in a position where additional verification is required, and they have any concerns about what they are being asked to provide, we encourage them to contact us and we will be happy to talk them through the process and help reach a solution.’’
Abann Yor, general manager of the Auckland Resettled Community Coalition, said: ‘‘There’s a difference between a country and an individual.’’
An accident of birth should not prevent someone with New Zealand citizenship opening a bank account, he said.
The bank is standing by its request for more information, but said: ‘‘We sincerely apologise that the additional information was not identified and sought from Afaf while she was in the branch, and for any embarrassment caused when the branch member approached her outside the branch.‘‘
‘‘Although we can’t comment about the banking arrangements for her husband and children, if they became customers before 2013, when anti-money laundering (legislation) came into effect, they may not have been asked for the same information.’’
There’s great sensitivity about money laundering in the banks after it was revealed how poor their Australian parent companies have been at it. New details of police investigations reveal the big four banks – Westpac, ANZ, NAB and CBA – have all been used to launder drug money.
And ASB’s parent company CBA, is fighting allegations of serious failure to prevent criminals from laundering money through it.
People who feel they’ve been treated harshly can complain to the Banking Ombudsman.
Spokesperson Tina Mitchell said: ‘‘The Banking Ombudsman can, and does, look into complaints about how the banks approach the antimoney laundering legislation.’’
Afaf Amir, a New Zealand citizen who was born in Sudan, feels opening a bank account should be as easy for her as any other New Zealander.
ASB, like all banks, does anti-money laundering checks on customers.