Cops & Conscience Combine After Bank’s Tech Glitch Gave Ethiopians USD 40 M+ In Free Money

By  |  March 21, 2024

Ethiopian authorities and appeals to conscience have taken centre stage following a technical glitch that allowed customers to withdraw millions from the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE).

Upon discovering the glitch, which enabled customers to access more funds than available in their accounts, authorities swiftly intervened. Long queues formed at cash machines across the nation, primarily driven by university students who were quick to exploit the malfunction.

Amid the frenzy, university students played a significant role in disseminating information about the glitch via social media channels, leading to widespread awareness and participation in the withdrawals.

Although the exact extent of the financial loss remains undisclosed, reports suggest that over USD 40 M was withdrawn or transferred during the disruption. The bank’s CEO, Abe Sano, acknowledged that approximately half a million transactions occurred during this period.

The glitch, attributed to a routine system update and inspection by Ethiopia’s central bank, prompted the temporary shutdown of the country’s banking system until the issue was resolved.

Established in 1963, CBE stands as Ethiopia’s largest bank, serving a vast clientele of 40 million customers. Despite the substantial financial setback, assurances were provided that individual account balances remained intact.

In response to the incident, efforts have been mobilised to recover the lost funds, with authorities collaborating closely with law enforcement agencies. Notably, CBE announced a lenient stance towards students who withdrew excess funds, refraining from pursuing legal action and instead urging voluntary returns.

It remains unclear how much success the recovery efforts have yielded but it’s been hinted that the bank could also take a leaf from previous similar incidents.

In recent months, incidents of technical glitches causing financial disruptions have emerged also elsewhere. For instance, the Bank of Ireland faced a similar challenge last August when customers were able to withdraw funds exceeding their account balances due to an IT glitch. Despite the withdrawals, the bank clarified that the excess funds would still be debited from customers’ accounts, resulting in numerous individuals facing negative balances.

Similarly, a notable incident occurred with Uber Eats in India in 2019, where a glitch allowed customers to order food through empty Paytm wallets, resulting in a weekend of free meals for many. These occurrences serve as stark reminders of the vulnerabilities within digital systems and the potential consequences of such technical malfunctions.

As authorities work to address the aftermath of the CBE glitch and attempt to recover the lost funds, it becomes evident that robust measures are necessary to safeguard against future incidents.

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