Trust: Years to build and a click to destroy — Shahril Ridza Ridzuan

APRIL 5 — A public institution is only effective when its stakeholders continue to place their utmost trust in it. The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) represents 14 million members, almost all of whom are Malaysians.

Today, we manage in excess of RM800 billion in value of their retirement assets. Safeguarding and growing this very large fund is a responsibility shouldered by the team at the EPF, pillared by our vision to help our members achieve a better future.

We know that our members and the employers who contribute to their accounts, expect the best from us. Not just in the managing of their funds, but also in how we deal with them on a day-to-day basis at our branches and through our many online channels.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to deal with us knows that we take pride in our world-class service levels, and since the 2008 financial crisis, we have exceeded our annual targeted returns, providing real inflation-adjusted growth to members’ savings.

Being large makes us a target for mischief mongers who attack this hard-earned trust by spreading rumours and conspiracy theories to further their own agendas. I have lost track of the number of times the EPF has been accused of bail-outs or our members subjected to online scams or postings.

This gets even more numerous come election time, as the EPF is typically used to further political agendas and influence the minds of our huge member base.

Those that start and circulate these false and misleading stories do not care that our 5,000 strong staff dedicate their hearts and souls to ensure the best service for, and protect the savings of, our members.

Their selfish acts directly attacks the EPF’s reputation that forms the bedrock of trust, and in our business, this can be very costly indeed.

It takes a lot of resources and effort to manage and repair the cracks caused by these attacks as well as makes it more expensive for us to conduct investment activities, as there is an increase in due diligence costs.

The EPF, too, is sometimes seen as a proxy to the nation and negative perceptions on the organisation has the unfortunate spill-over effect on the reputation of Malaysia as a whole. The reverse is also true as fake news on Malaysia impacts our reputation in global markets.

Last year, “news” was circulated online and via WhatsApp that the Government was giving a cash incentive to all senior citizens via the EPF. As a result, our branches were inundated by senior citizens and their families clamouring for the non-existent cash.

This had an adverse impact on our usually efficient operations, as our counter staff were hard pressed to service members due to the overcrowding. I also feel sorry for the many senior citizens that spent time and money on the long trip to our EPF branches, some even in wheelchairs, and it was all for nothing.

Every time there is a fake post on nominations or our withdrawal rules or a false promise is made, members and employers spend valuable time trying to clear their confusion, either in person at our branches or burning up minutes calling our Call Centre.

Fake news has a real-life impact on people’s time and their financial decisions. While we always stand ready to serve our members (and our staff have learned to smile and bear it every time some new online posting pops up), you wonder how much more productive our country would be if people did not have to lose time dealing with such foolishness.

Notwithstanding the criticisms levelled against the Fake News Act, I can understand why the Government has taken this step in trying to create some rules in a totally unregulated environment; where the uninformed (maliciously or otherwise) can sometimes have the largest voice.

All of us need to bear personal responsibility and accountability in this digital era for what we publish. I think this legislation would be unnecessary if people live by a simple credo when it comes to creating or disseminating any information; if it is not true, not kind nor helpful, then the best option is to keep silent and not send it on.

* Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan is chief executive officer of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF)

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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