Equity Group forms team of top executives to curb rising fraud

Equity Group Chief Finance Officer, Moses Nyabanda, Equity Group Managing Director and CEO, Dr James Mwangi and Equity Group Chief Internal Auditor, Beth Kithinji, during the Q1 2024 Investor Briefing event. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Equity Bank has assembled a team of high-level crime busters to arrest rising fraud as the inevitable adoption of technology by lenders continues to put banking systems at higher risk of cybercrime.

The lender said the team, including senior group executives, will seek to address various crimes including theft of customer deposits, according to information shared with The Standard by sources within the bank.

In the last three months, Equity Group has raided PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) for talent to lead the crime-busting unit that has at least 11 other top executives.

Among the new hires is Moses Nyabanda, poached from PwC, to become the group chief finance officer. He was previously the managing director and country senior partner for PwC in Rwanda.

“We have strengthened the bank significantly to make sure that internal controls environment within the bank is up to global standards,” said Equity Group Chief Executive James Mwangi during an investor briefing while releasing the financial results for 2024 first quarter on May 13.

The bank also recently recruited Beth Kithinji from CBK, where she was advisor to the governor and the director for internal audit and risk management.

She is now Equity’s group chief internal auditor. “For the first time in the history of the bank, we have appointed a group chief finance officer, Moses Nyabanda,” noted the lender.

“He has global experience, having worked across various markets and part of his duty is to make sure that our financials, accounting, and back office are at a global level.”

“Beth Kithinji has also joined from CBK to strengthen our internal control environment and culture of risk management,” Mr Mwangi said while introducing the two during the investor briefing.

Unfamiliar transactions

The bank said other officers in the team including group chief information security officer Thelma Kganakga and the Group Compliance Director Paul Wafula “possess valuable skills, experience, and networks that can be leveraged to grow other bank’s businesses.”

Among the red flags that the fraud busters will look out for include unfamiliar transactions or account activities that do not correspond with a customer’s profile.

Equity Group, the second most profitable bank in the region after KCB in the first quarter results, will be seeking to stamp out crime risks as it expands its presence across Eastern Africa. The bank’s reputation has recently taken a hit following allegations of fraudulent activities, some of which have led to loss of millions in customer deposits.

About a month ago, Equity is said to have lost around Sh20 million to fraudsters, though the lender says it was quick to take action and recover most of the money.

“Perhaps a pointer to the veracity and how effective the new team can be, the investigation was done within about eight days and about 90 per cent of the stolen cash recovered,” sources told The Standard.

“The culprits have since been arraigned and are awaiting sentencing by court.”

Data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows the total reported cybercrimes more than doubled in 2023 to 1.7 billion from 700 million in 2022, with the bulk of the incidents attributed to system vulnerabilities.

“System vulnerabilities witnessed a significant rise from 452.4 million in 2022 to 1.7 billion incidents in 2023, which underscores the growing challenge of securing digital systems against the evolving complex cyber threats,” said the Economic Survey 2024 report.

The Equity Bank team, which is part of a broader anti-scam squad, is made up of top former police investigators and bank employees. “Their job is to identify, monitor and stop the scams as they are being committed. If they don’t catch that happening, they will help with fund tracing and recovery,” the bank said.

“This varied nature of talent needed reflects how scams are becoming more sophisticated and technology-driven, but new crime busters at Equity believe they are up to the task and will help minimise or eliminate fraud.”

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