Apparently, the bank’s information, communication technology (ICT) system had collapsed, making it hard for the bank to serve its customers, especially those who wanted to withdraw money.
The bank’s customers across the country were angry and frustrated—and rightly so.
To their credit, the bank’s leaders—led by chief executive officer Bernadette Mandoloma, chief finance officer Dumisani Chatima, head of personal and business banking Mercus Chigoga and chief operations officer Martin Siwu—addressed a press conference to explain what they understood to be the problem at the time and what they were doing about it.
Said Mandoloma: “Our priority was to ensure that the system is fixed for our customers to transact. Our ICT team has been working tirelessly. Meanwhile, we are yet to establish the cause of the problem for it is the first of its kind.”
She added that the bank was taking a deep diagnosis of the snag to ensure that the situation does not recur.
In terms of crisis communication, NBS erred by delaying to relay the information about the challenges it was facing, although the bank must earn the credit for taking the effort to be open about its problems. I hope that the bank will keep updating its customers so that they make informed financial decisions.
But having said that, what happened at NBS points to a problem of a weak ICT infrastructure and the bank should take steps to invest more in the system, including upgrades and strengthening its backup otherwise this is not very helpful to customers.
The bank should also investigative thoroughly what caused the massive technology setback and hold someone accountable.
What surprised and disappointed me, however, was that while NBS Bank had accepted that it had a serious problem on its hands, the Bankers Association of Malawi (BAM) was in denial and tried to downplay the problem.
Said BAM executive director Lyness Nkungula, in her response to an e-mailed questionnaire: “This is one of those rare incidents and we are aware that not all services were down and that the bank was still able to take deposits and some ATMs [auto teller machines] were operating. The good part is that customers’ money is safe; hence, nobody needs to panic.”
Yet, the bank’s management had in fact said that no ATM was operational after the system collapsed.
And nobody needed to panic? Really?
Tell that to the person who wanted to withdraw money to pay a deposit at a hospital for a very sick relative to be treated.
Tell that to a business person who needed to withdraw money to pay a supplier who could easily sell the merchandise to someone else.
Tell that to a tenant whose landlord was about to lock up the house if he did not bring the money by a certain time.
Tell that to the parent whose child was kicked out of school because of fees and she needed to withdraw money to pay the school and ensure the child in back in class. Why do people make such careless and insensitive statements?
Why would BAM try to suppress what NBS had transparently come in the open to admit?
I thought BAM was there to promote professionalism in the banking sector? Is this how it goes about it? Is there any wonder our banking industry is so inefficient?
Look, our banks promise you that a pay day loan, which is supposed to be an express facility, will be processed within 24 hours, but you sometimes get it 72 hours later after endless visits to the banks. What happened to turnaround times?
ATMs keep crushing and there are always long queues at these cash dispensing machines.
When the ATMs fail to give you cash, it still records that you got the money. When you go to the bank to claim the money, you are made to fill a bunch of documents and the banks have the cheek to tell you that you can wait up to 90 days before you get your money bank. Basically, they are making the customer pay for their inefficiencies.
The list of frustrations customers endure at the hands of our banks is long.
One would, therefore, expect that BAM would work with the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) to ensure that banks deliver better services in a professional and customer focused manner.
Instead, BAM is behaving—going by the manner it handled the NBS issue—like the chief spin doctor for the banks. What a shame!