FNB safety deposit box victims fuming

First National Bank headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.
First National Bank headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Image: The Times / Alon Skuy

Many victims of the safety deposit box heists at three First National Bank branches have greeted the bank’s settlement offers for their losses of valuable collectables with disbelief and outrage, writes Wendy Knowler.

The bank began e-mailing the heist victims yesterday.

Most offers appeared to be below 20% – many less than 10% – of the full value of their claim, with no information as to how their percentage was arrived at.

One was offered just 14% of his claim, despite providing proof of his Krugerrand purchases.

The victims lost family heirlooms, cash, coin collections and other valuables in one of three heists.

In September 2015, what FNB calls “a small number” of safety deposit boxes were stolen from FNB in Sunnyside, Pretoria.

On December 18 last year, 360 boxes were stolen in a brazen overnight break-in at the Randburg, Johannesburg, branch and two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, thieves penetrated a vault at FNB Parktown and made off with R1.7-million in cash and valuables from about 30 deposit boxes.

The settlement offers include a confidentiality clause, but Henning Springer of Randburg has nothing to lose by speaking about his offer, because it’s zero.

FNB to close its safe custody box facilities

His e-mail from FNB read: “We note that your version states that you had various items of value in your safety deposit box. However, you have not provided sufficient proof… we will not be compensating…”

Springer had submitted a claim totalling R186,000 for his losses, including several Krugerrands, coin collections, his children’s christening gifts, collections of old South African banknotes and R40,000 in cash. “I had taken no photos of any of it in the box, but would I have been paying the bank R220 a month for 20 years for an empty box?”

Initially, the bank pointed victims to the small-print terms and conditions of their safety deposit box rental contract, which state that the bank takes no responsibility for any losses and urges customers to take out insurance on their valuables.

But when allegations of the bank’s failure to adequately secure the vaults surfaced, the bank softened its stance, reimbursing heist victims for the cost of replacing personal documents such as passports; paying the excess amounts for those who were insured, and enlisting a team of external assessors to evaluate the claims of those who were not insured.

FNB spokesman Lee-Anne van Zyl said the bank had made individual settlement offers “despite not being legally obliged to do so”.

But victims’ group organiser Kelly Fraser accused FNB of being “a law unto itself”. “We are prepared to take it [our case] all the way to the Constitutional Court.”

Shortly after the Parktown incident, FNB announced that it would no longer provide a safety deposit box facility to its clients.

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