Brian Pike recently had what he thought was a pleasant surprise when he stumbled upon two decades-old guaranteed investment certificates (GICs), worth $1,500 each as he was going through old files.
The 72-year-old bought the GICs from Scotiabank in 1991 — one for his then-16-year-old daughter Laura and one for his then-12-year-old son Adam.
“It was when I was unpacking boxes that had some documents in them and I looked and wondered what the heck is that,” Pike said while holding the folded 28-year-old certificates now covered in dust marks.
But the pleasant surprise took an unpleasant turn when Scotiabank told Pike it had no record of the GICs and declined to cash them or pay him the $240 interest earned on the one-year investments, for a total of $3,240.
The certificates include serial numbers, imprints of their value and a teller’s stamp.
No record of GICs
When Pike found the GICs in July, he says he took them to the closest Scotiabank and talked to the branch manager, who told him she would get back to him in a week after talking to bank officials in Toronto.
Three weeks later, when he had heard nothing, Pike says he returned to the bank only to find out the original manager had been replaced by a new manager who knew nothing about the old GICs.
After another week-long wait, Pike was told by the branch manager that Scotiabank had no record of the certificates and therefore they couldn’t be redeemed.
“I said, look these are financial instruments. Of course, they’re redeemable. It’s like cash,” said Pike, who was then referred to Scotiabank headquarters in Toronto.
On August 25, Pike wrote a long email detailing his predicament.
“The email address was ‘office of the president’,” said Pike. “But it’s just a front for their customer relations.”
After several email exchanges and at least one phone call, Scotiabank’s manager of customer concerns wrote to Pike on Oct. 10 to say the bank wouldn’t redeem the GICs because it had no record of them.
According to the bank, when the GICs reached maturity, Pike would have been contacted for disbursement or reinvestment instructions, and if the GICs were still on the books of Scotiabank, T5 tax slips would have been issued for the interest earned.
Scotiabank said a search going back several years was conducted and no tax slips were located.
“They didn’t have any paper on it but I have the paper,” said an angry Pike, who is fully employed and has a good credit record.
“I have the certificates.”
CBC steps in
Pike was referred to the Scotiabank ombudsman but he contacted CBC instead.
“I think they’re kicking the small guy to the curb here,” said Pike, calling the entire situation mind-boggling.
“I can’t believe that they’ve been that ignorant with what is essentially a legal contract.”
Less than 24 hours after CBC reached out to Scotiabank, Pike received a phone call from the Toronto office of the bank telling him the GICs would be redeemed and he would be paid the eight per cent interest that was accrued before the investments matured in 1992.
There was no explanation of why the GICs were not honoured in the first place.
The bank representative did, however, apologize that the matter had gone to this length.
Pike says his first call after talking to the bank was to his children, who responded to the news with surprise.
Scotiabank told CBC in an email it has connected with “the individual” and resolved the matter to his satisfaction.
Cracks in technological change
The almost 30-year-old GICs were issued at a time when financial institutions, at best, likely used floppy discs to store information, according to CCEC Credit Union general manager Denis Flinn.
Technology used by banks has come a long way since then, said Flinn, but along the way clerical errors related to moving from paper to digital may have occurred.
It’s entirely plausible, he said, that an institution with multiple operating systems acquired over several decades failed to scan something or failed to make a renewal call.
The burden of proof, said Flinn, lies with the institution.
“This person [Pike] is holding a GIC physically, which used to be the gold standard of proof,” said Flinn.
The bank, he said, has to ask itself what compelling evidence it has to the contrary.