Once you walk into any of the banking halls, you will be surprised by a line of clients trying to transact. It could be someone making deposits or withdraws or making a mere account balance enquiry. Fact is we are spending a lot of time in banking halls, except those that enjoy platinum services of executive banking. People are spending hours to transact business, and productivity is lost.
I do not want to fault banks for the long lines in the halls. No one can dispute that billions of profits are being made. That’s what a clever bank will always do. However, tales are quite common that some people have collapsed on the line. Sometimes, we see heaps of empty counters. Could this be a strategy of the banks cutting labour costs? Whatever the motivation, doing a business with Malawian banks is increasingly becoming a time- consuming activity. To say the least, one would think banking is a privilege and there is nothing one can do about it.
Banks have responded differently to deal with the problem. At times reactions have been similar. To ensure that no one ever noticed the time spent transacting, almost all banks installed cable television in the banking halls. The idea was concocted on the basis that customers would pre-occupy themselves watching some television programme. Another bank even went further to offer fizzy-sugary drinks to the waiting customer. Some have modernised to use a ticketing system that ensures order. But all these approaches do not address the problem of overcrowding. The lines still exist, annoyingly so, to be precise. Getting out of a bank has an energy drain synonymous with a work out.
Now consider that it is the year 2013. Banks have a serious problem just like their clients. On the client side it is mainly businesses and individual clients. Solving the banking hall fatigue where people spend many hours has more to do with efficient electronic payment mechanisms. A few years ago, government decided that no import duties would be levied on electronic pay-point devices. The idea was that banks would buy and install them across outlets.
If you notice, few outlets have installed such devices. And where such devices have been installed, often it is outlets an average person does not shop from. The situation is also complicated by the fact ATM cards of our banks are not compatible except if they have a “visa” label. It means that even if one bank installed a pay-point device in a shop, all customers need to have a card of that bank or a visa branded one. Yet all these are Malawian banks that cannot interconnect themselves electronically except via an international credit company like Visa. Malswitch is a great idea but it has not solved such a problem. I believe innovative IT banking solutions that keep people away from banking halls and ATM machines are what we need.
While it is easy to question IT solutions of banks, I reckon our culture of doing business needs to change. The average business or individual in town is more comfortable doing business in cash, not electronic. We love to withdraw huge sums of cash and spend it that way. Businesses too like to have real cash and send their cashiers with bags of millions to flood banking halls. Call it a cycle if you like. You withdraw cash, spend it and the business goes to deposit the same. We all just add up to the long queue. Blame the banks?
Banks will need to have a business case to install such machines. But unless the general public shows willingness to change how they transact, banks do not care. Their profit record is all in the public domain. They are in business.