To customers of most 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 machine (ATM) 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 are in use. Typical examples I have here include Standard Bank Limited’s Autobank centre at Blantyre Branch and National Bank of Malawi (NBM) ATMs in Limbe central business district (CBD). There are also “smaller” banks who have few ATMs around town and fail to maintain them in good working order.
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, every month-end you find only one or two working, with the rest blinking the irritating ‘ATM not in use’ notice. It is the same nightmare every weekend and indeed every month-end where one would mistake the queues for a political rally.
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 (Nat Switch) to link all bank ATMs and point-of-sale (PoS) devices to give customers convenience. How far has this project gone?
With the Nat Switch, customers would no longer be restricted to transact at the ATM of their parent bank. For example, an FDH Bank customer would freely withdraw money with their FDH Bank card from a Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) ATM and vice-versa albeit at a fee.
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 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 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 a little 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.