To many customers of most of the commercial banks in the country, undertaking banking transactions, especially at the end of the month, is one nightmare they would want to avoid given a choice.
Banking during this period is characterised by congested banking halls as well as meandering queues on automated teller machines (ATMs) service points.
Nowadays, it has become “the norm” to find that where, for example, two or more ATMs are available for customers to transact their business, either half or none of the machines is in use. Typical examples I have here include Standard Bank’s Autobank centre at Blantyre Branch and National Bank of Malawi (NBM) ATMs in Limbe central business district (CBD).
In its bid to provide excellent service to customers in the shortest time possible, Standard Bank installed almost six ATMs at its Blantyre Branch. However, at the end of every month you find that only one or two are working, with the rest blinking the irritating ‘ATM not in use’ notice. It is the same nightmare most weekends, and indeed, every month-end.
I know some bankers will argue that there is mobile and Internet banking to enable customers undertake transactions such as bill payments and the like. This has always been a welcome initiative, but what is Internet or mobile banking if half the time one cannot log in? In some cases, you can hardly transact, getting messages such as “external error”, forcing you to physically go into banking halls.
From March 1 2015, the Bankers Association of Malawi (BAM) launched the National Switch (NatSwitch) to link all bank ATMs and point-of-sale (PoS) devices to give customers convenience. With the NatSwitch, customers would no longer be restricted to transact at the ATMs of their parent bank.
Hitherto, such an arrangement, on the local scene, was only possible under the Visa platform where a Standard Bank customer would withdraw money from NBM or FMB and NBS Bank ATM machine with Visa or MasterCard branding.
The situation gets worse when one walks into many banking halls where long queues are the order of the day. What has always puzzled me, however, is the fact that banks provide, for argument’s sake, five service counters, but only one or two of them serve customers despite the long queues.
Not that I am against television sets installed in banking halls. But someone told me that in any business premises, the moment you see a TV installed at the reception area or in banking halls, in case of banks, it is a subtle reminder that you will have to wait longer before you are served.
In some banking halls, there are clearly labelled ‘bulk teller’ cubicles, but you still see ‘bulk depositors’ opting for ordinary tellers, further delaying other customers with small and straightforward deposits.
I feel it is time banks started enforcing what they proclaim to ensure sanity and quality service in banking halls. Time is money. It is, therefore, not fair to customers, who are the bosses, to be victims of internal inefficiencies.
Ideally, pluralism brings diversity. In business, competition is essentially expected to protect consumers from monopolies by giving them a wide choice. However, what one sees in the banking sector is more or less similar products whose striking difference is mere branding. For example, if one bank opens an executive banking suite, all and sundry will follow suit as they would when bank A starts a deposit mobilisation promotion.
When I hear consumers crying for better service from banks, I always wonder where the regulator of financial services and/or his/her agents do their banking transactions.
Personally, having been a loyal customer of one or two banks for over a decade, I am still looking for a banking experience that will make a difference.