National Bank of Malawi (NBM) chief executive officer George Partridge bemoans slow response to Internet banking by clients.
At a golf function in Mzuzu a fortnight ago, some indications were made to embark on a â€˜civic educationâ€™ programme to sensitise the public to the niceties of Internet banking.
Some benefits in his narrate, include decongesting banking halls and security for huge sums of cash.
Probably, other CEOs within the industry share similar views. We cannot ascertain though. Nonetheless, we ought to look further than just Internet banking, to include entire spectrum of electronic banking and how customers perceive such facilities. We can certainly ascertain who needs civic education and of what kind. It could be civic education on service quality and delivery expected of a 21st century bank. Similarly, realisations of banks on how demanding respective customers are.
In our case, we can look at electronic banking as use of Internet, mobile phone banking, ATMs, electronic point of sale purchase, utility bill payments, among others. Certainly, we will find out in as much as the banking public requires civic education on electronic banking, Malawiâ€™s commercial banks do require a lot of â€˜civic educationâ€™ on basics of quality service delivery, including customer care. And there are justifiable reasons, rational to be precise, as to the low response to some of these initiatives.
There is something fundamentally wrong in the banking industry. I guess banks will need to accept and realise the muted response to electronic banking is their problem not their clients. Before any serious attempts are made to educate the public on electronic banking and consequently woo them, internal review of quality service and customer care requires a brave overhaul.
For instance no one wants the face of a rude bank teller who looks at you as if putting money in the bank is a privilege. Far from it! Similarly, there is no need for banks to brag about 12 or 15 service counters in the hall when only three are active. You do not solve this problem by putting TV sets in the banking halls. Neither do you solve them by having usually faulty ATMs nor does mobile telephone banking that work sometimes. I am not sure if we have ATMs that accept deposits. Just cash dispensers.
Let us consider the case of electronic purchases using Points of Purchase (POP). Goodall Gondweâ€™s budget made a bold attempt to remove duty on these gargets. Banks were expected to take a leading role, import heaps of them and have them installed in various outlets. After all, they know their corporate customers. Few shops have such facilities and worse still, the POPs are not integrated in a way that customers can use cards issued from a different bank.
That aside, most POPs, just like ATMs, tend not to work at times, inconveniencing clients said to be in need of civic education. And the reaction? Besides the embarrassment on the paying counter, they will probably not buy into the idea of plastic money, rush to a faulty ATM, then hit the banking hall. And so goes a cycle of banking hall congestion.
What the banks need to understand are the needs of modern day customers. Malawians, at least those using banks, often have difficulties to rank banks in terms of quality service. Utmost, they look at banks as more concerned with making as much money as possible irrespective of the service they offer. A majority has problems describing a particular bank, the best. The reasons for such sentiments are difficult to discern, but nonetheless can be speculated with precision.
Recently, at a Standard Bank function for private clients, Chancellor College economist Ronald Mangani alluded to the fact that banks are comfortable with lending money to government not private businesses. Some of his sentiments are arrayed in huge profits that come from buying government debt, attractive at the moment.
Unfortunately, government is not a person or private enterprise in search of quality service. It could be one reason service delivery is so poor and also explain banksâ€™ unwillingness to innovate to meet the needs of private clients. One wonders whether banks are really surprised by the slow response to electronic banking or are still in business slumber as usual. After all, government will come to borrow, and the rates are even attractive now amid the liquidity crunch in the system. So, why innovate when you can make a lot of money buying government debt?
Most clients are indifferent as to the most efficient bank. Often, they have been let down citing service quality. Worse still customers do pay for various services and in return, get a mediocre service.
In my opinion, they are still hunting for a bank that will satisfy their needs. The average person is still searching for banking that is less costly and more efficient. Spend little time in the banking hall and on the ATMs. An Internet banking service that is working all the time not intermittent. One that they can bank with prompt action. Not cases where the banks tell you they did not get the instruction and request a fresh one. Imagine a client has to pay over a K1 000 to transfer money from one bank to the other using Internet banking. They will simply congest in the banking halls, withdraw the sums and head to another bank to congest it as well. It is now synonymous with a rude mini-bus conductor that knows pretty well you need a ride to work at 7am. You either get in to sit on those hard uncomfortable seats or else you are late. Either you bank your money or keep heaps in the house, or you know the risks.
In reality, a bank customer in our setting is not willing to add onto the current miseries and frustrations, apparent in bad service. Speculatively, it could be the reason the response has been lukewarm to electronic banking. Any attempts to civic educate the public about electronic banking is an excise in futility as long as service quality remains the way it is.
So, who really needs civic education? Your guess is good as mine.