Once in a while we hear of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Bangladesh Bank chasing alleged financial criminals. Sometimes it is expected as the persons concerned are already news items in the media. Sometimes we are puzzled by the persons they are chasing who are not known to us. One presumes that their job is to find out financial and monetary operations of the illicit kind. It's very laudable of course but we have no idea what they do and how. And what happens in the end. It's not secretive but it's just that we don't know the conclusions.

They do go after people suspected of unlawful financial acts but in Bangladesh which wheeler- dealer isn't? It's a land of many rich and powerful people. So they can't certainly be short of work. However, with all due respects, while they have certainly gathered much intelligence/information and we are sure their leaders are intelligent too, the financial sector is a source of anxiety for all including the Government itself.

There are many reasons for it being so, whether it is flight of capital, non-performing loans - cutely described - to embezzlement to theft and loot. It's such a wide range of activities that almost no sector of financial world is free of it. It's difficult to distinguish between the two, legal and non-legal - when it comes to this matter.

Who protects the depositors?

Authorities must have undertaken efforts to stop them and there are several institutions dealing with it such as ACC, police, etc. But people may ask what the level of success is? It doesn't matter if it's answered or not because people really don't expect an answer. The result is a situation where cases of corruption and theft are discussed on media, make headlines, cases may be filed but after that it mostly disappears into the bowels of institutional silence. It's not that the authorities don't want to do something but whether given the system, they can do anything or not is a bigger point.

There are political costs to do this too because by promising to rein in corruption, enormous public expectation is created. When that doesn't happen, the result is a lack or less confidence in the financial system. Whether it's the DSE or the leasing companies, rational financial regulations don't seem to apply. Plus, many of the sectors are plagued by huge scams. Even the top scam which has ripped into the bellies of the depositing community belonging to the helpless class hasn't had any impact.

Farmers Bank, International leasing, People's leasing, Destiny, Oriental Bank, Jubok, and the rest haven't deterred new thieves from entering the scam market. The DSE, CSE scene is so bad that no one even mentions market manipulation. It's taken for granted that they are here to stay because they are inside the system. And that is what the problem is.

All the financial institutional maladies are not seen as external to the financial system but as part of it. But the ordinary people are not part of it. These institutions are far more powerful than the depositors. So how are they going to protect themselves? And that is why the term "financial intelligence" needs a more people friendly interpretation.

Three levels of self protection

It very broadly means that people have to know much more than they do now about how financial systems work. Unless they do, they will keep on becoming victims. No one has seriously protected them so it might be wishful thinking to assume they will be protected. Hence the only way for financial product consumers to survive is to learn self-defense against systemic theft. There is no other option left having seen the system's performance and the rising level of the same.

The challenge before the consumers is to decide at the first level if they should deposit their halal money in banks and financial institutions or not. It is a very radical suggestion and step but if the situation reaches that point, such a decision may be taken. If depositors think that their money is not safe in any outfit, they may risk and keep the money at home. It is the last step but it's not an impossible scenario.

The second is to decide if they are going to deposit their money and if so where it should be? Interest rates are great baits and many have been pauperized by this trick. The authorities seem to have low control over the institutions so a confidence index needs to be introduced which is independent of Bangladesh Bank and based on public perception and knowledge.

The third is to identify those banks which are highly risky and may cause a threat to the welfare of the depositors. A civil financial blockade through advocacy is needed to protect the depositors.

Finally, people must identify those banks and institutions where the money can be safe even if not returning a decent investment. If it the public sector, the GOB or the army owned banks is not the issue as the depositors are outside the scheme of such power positions. The community needs security, it's not institutionally available and that is why the matter has to be taken into their own hands, with their own intelligence.

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