First, let me congratulate National Bank of Malawi for constructing a beautiful office building. A seasoned engineer friend who was taken around the building came back shaking his head in awe. How nice!
But probably all other Malawian banks should also invest with similar energy in improving their service. In most banks:
i) Queues are always too long. Did anybody in these banks learn anything about queuing theory? Increase the number of service points to reduce queues. Open more outlets, if you will. Use electronic services more than manual. An Asian businessman brings in MK50 million and you want to count all that by hand? Excuse me!
ii) Cashiers, other staff and sometimes managers are rude. You walk in with a query and they hand you like an ‘it’, with no feelings. TM, a friend of mine in Kasungu, walked to an auto-teller machine on 4 January 2012 and the damn thing could not give her any money. The banks, unfortunately, were closed. She phoned five times the numbers listed on the machine, and nobody cared to pick the damn call. So , in frustration, she pounded her fists at the less fragile parts of the machine, which infuriated the security lady next standing watch. It also infuriated the bank staff inside, the same who were ignoring her calls. But what did TM get in return? Insults! Instead of solving her problems, the bank staff showered insults at her. The guard went so far as to tell TM that she was not going to keep her marriage. When TM told them she was single, they said ‘You won’t be able to get a husband!’ So much for her own money which she wanted to withdraw!
And she was not the only one to be inconvenienced by this bank on the same day. Patrick Bwanali, another friend, on the same 4th of January went to a Balaka branch of this bank. The auto-teller machine once again failed to release the cash he wanted. When he went inside, a staffer said absentmindedly: ‘It is behaving like that. Try another time.’ That was all the help he could get. What sort of customer service is this?
When Muva Sambo, another friend, went to a bank to change an ATM card, the bank did not hesitate to charge his account for the requested service. Four days after the promised delivery date the bank had no idea he made any such request.
Kiliro Mbisa, another friend, was denied withdrawal of cash by a very rude cashier because she was using a foreign identity card – the very same ID card she used to open the account! When her loss of temper attracted an audience, a bank staffer who personally knew her came to her rescue.
On January 3rd 2012 Miso Gundo went to a bank to receive money sent through Moneygram. He had to wait for over 40 minutes after handing in all relevant information. When he went to follow up, he was told there was no network, a fact no one had bothered to inform him about. When he suggested going to another bank, suddenly the network was there. After another 10 minutes, the cashier apparently called his name. Mind you the waiting seats do not face the counter directly. Miso did not hear it. A good Samaritan alerted him. When Miso availed himself at the counter, the cashier rudely said “Ndimakuyitanani simumamva?” (I was calling didn’t you hear me?) Miso answered politely “Sorry Ma’am, I didn’t hear you”. She went on to say “Ndimayitana kawiri kenako ndimazisiya pambali mpaka m’ma thwelufu” (I call out your name only twice after which I abandon the cash aside until around noon).
In another incident two years ago, the same Miso applied for online banking services. The latter duly sent him the personal identification number (PIN) while he was in Bangladesh. It never worked. He wrote the bank three times but there was no response. After a year the bank emailed him that they had observed he was not using his online account. How the heck does one use the service with a wrong PIN?
There is a huge task for Malawian banks to invest even in the basics of customer service. As of now, there isn’t any. It is not enough to invest in glittering buildings. The service is what matters. In the business world, customer is king. At all Malawian banks, customer is slave. All banks – and there are eleven of them, if we exclude Malawi Rural Finance – have mediocre services when it comes to customer care. Don’t get me started on the queues, for instance.
iii) Poor telephone services. I maintain my account at National Bank, Lilongwe Branch, but calling them is a nightmare. They never answer their calls. I was lucky once to be given a phone number of the bank manager. Things were fine for as long as he was at the branch. Now he has been moved and we’re back to the eighteenth century. Besides, on the internet service of NBM – which is better than the services provided by other banks in Malawi and surrounding countries – there is a phone number we customers should call when facing a problem. The whole of 2011 the phone number did not work for me. Nobody answered the calls. Was President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Satan probably sitting on this phone? The only phone number that works well is at Victoria Avenue, but then you would be very lucky to promptly find anybody to give you accurate information on the phone!
iv) Moving with the times: The Bankers Association of Malawi must be asleep. Our banks are terribly lagging behind in terms of technological advancement. As Lameck, a friend, wondered on a Facebook wall of Stanley, another writer-friend, why should ATM cards be bank-specific at this day and age? What happens in other countries is that I can walk up to Standard Bank with a National Bank ATM card and cash without problems. Secondly, we are being given some supposedly Visa cards which can only work in this country alone. Is the use of the word Visa a gimmick?
The litany could go on and on. Why, for instance, does one have to go through hell to process a loan, as Gift, another friend, wondered? Why do they charge us fees that are too high? Aren’t they satisfied by the huge profits they make?
Malawian banks must improve. In Chitumbuka they say kauzganga nifwiti yayi – fwiti n’tilinganenge (he who gives you a word of advice harbours no ill-will).
*Francis Chuma submitted this article to Nyasa Times and it was also published in the pressFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :