A Glitch at an Ethiopian Bank Let Customers Take Millions

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Mar 27, 2024

A recent glitch in the system allowed Commercial Bank of Ethiopia customers to withdraw more money than was in their accounts.

Most of these customers were students, and now the bank and the police are trying to get that money back. 

The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia Is Ethiopia’s Largest Bank

The Associated Press has reported that the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia is the country’s largest bank, with around 43 million customers.

A branch of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. It is the Africa Avenue branch. The sign is black with gold lettering and there are some shutters underneath.

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The bank was established in 1963 and has never seen a system glitch like this.


Commercial Bank of Ethiopia Suffered a Systems Glitch

In March 2024, many customers of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia discovered a glitch in the system.

A glitch in the system. The system is black and has loads of dots and lines of different colors, but mostly red, green, and blue.

Source: rawpixel.com/Freepik

They found that they could take out more money than was currently in their accounts, which many people, especially students, took advantage of.

$40 Million Was Withdrawn or Transferred

Whilst the glitch was happening, Addis Fortune reported that around $40 million is believed to have either been withdrawn or transferred to other bank accounts. 

A man sat at a table with his laptop on the table. He is holding a debit/credit card in one hand and is inputting the details into the laptop to make a money transfer.

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It is believed that during the glitch, around half a million transfers and withdrawals were made.

The Glitch Lasted Several Hours

The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia struggled to get the system glitch under control initially. 

A timer on a wooden table. The timer has minutes from 5 to 60 and has a white hand with red on the end that is between the 60 and 5-minute marks.

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After several hours of the glitch and millions of dollars being transferred, the bank eventually got everything back under control.

The Glitch Was Completely Internal

When a glitch like this occurs, especially in banking, many worry that the glitch is coming from an external source, which could pose many more risks.

A glitch in the system. Various vertical and horizontal lines are quite close together and they are all different colors, including red, blue, and green.

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However, CBE President Abie Sano has confirmed that the glitch was internal and is now fully under control. 


The Glitch Was Caused by Routine Updates

The glitch was completely internal, and the bank said it occurred during a routine system update, according to Sky News.

A laptop on a desk. The screen on the laptop is open and says “software update latest version” and has a box with a blue arrow pointing upwards. A red mug is also on the desk with a white number “7” on it.

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It occurred during the updates and inspection, which should put some customers at ease, as it does not appear to have been caused by a cybersecurity attack. 


University Students Took Advantage of the System's Glitch

University students are hardly known for having an endless pot of money, and the BBC reported that it was mostly students who took advantage of the system glitch.

Three university students are walking through campus. They are walking down some steps and a university building is behind them.

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Students were texting and calling each other about the glitch, which increased the number of people making money transfers and withdrawals. 


Police Officers Put a Stop to Money Withdrawals and Transfers

The money withdrawals continued until police officers arrived at ATMs and stopped anyone from making any withdrawals.

A police officer stopping a man in the street. She is wearing a police uniform and he is in a dark purple shirt. There are trees and buildings in the background.

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Universities have also had to advise their students to return any money they took that was not theirs.


People Are Not Being Charged as Long as They Return the Money

Because this was a glitch in the system, people are not charged for taking the money as long as they return it.

Two people sitting next to a coffee table. One person is handing the other some money, mostly made up of $10 and $20 bills.

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However, it is currently unknown whether all the money has been returned, nor how much of it has been returned.


Convincing People to Return the Money Might Not Be Smooth

It’s all well and good for the bank and the police to say they are going to get the money back, but that may be easier said than done.

A person sitting on the floor holding $100 bills fanned out.

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Techpoint Africa has suggested that the bank and police’s efforts to convince people to give the money back have been an entirely different story. 


The System Glitch Reveals the Danger of Relying on Internet Banking

With many people becoming increasingly reliant on Internet banking, the glitch in the system at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia suggests that people should be cautious about becoming too reliant on it.

A person holding their phone near a card reader. They have their debit/credit card saved onto their phone, which the reader is scanning.

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This is especially true as it took the bank several hours to sort out, and as a result, ATM withdrawals, internet banking, and mobile bank-to-bank transfers were put to a halt, leaving many people struggling to pay for things.