26 November 2012

Liberia: Going to Some Commercial Banks in Liberia


One of the areas in which post-war Liberia has made significant strive is the banking sector, with the establishment of many banking institutions. Because of policies and mechanisms put into place by the Central Bank of Liberia, the public continues to have confidence in them. Owing to this, the banks continue to experience an upsurge in its customer base.

That is, people continue to do business with the banks either as depositors or creditors. Correspondingly, the banks have also established loan system that many Liberian businesses and individual business people are utilizing.

Disappointingly, despite the people's desire to do business with these banks, it has been observed that some of the banks are taking advantage of the confidence of the people or the desire of the people to keep their money in the bank for safety, by providing poor customer services. I am a customer of some of the banking institutions in the country, and have also observed and continue to observe poor teller services at some of these banks.

Actually, the banks are so structured that they have enough teller's booths to cater to the many customers calling at these banks on a daily basis. But the number of teller's booths at some of these banks, is a paradox. That is, anyone entering these banks and seeing the number of teller's booths would logically deduce that services will be done expeditiously. Noticeably, the number of booths at these banks from my observation is a mere charade that is only intended to give the customers a false expectation of better or faster teller's services.

As for this issue, I have elected for professional reason not to mention the names of these banks in this article, but to deal with the issue because it is profound. Sometimes it is disgusting or nauseating that one has to spend hours at these banks only because of poor teller's service. "Poor teller's services" does not mean that the teller does not know the job, but that these banks open their doors to customers, sometimes with only one out of the six or more teller's booths. Because of this poor teller's services, these banks (names withheld) always witness unnecessary long queues of customers who have to stand for hours to get served. The scene can be so pathetic and make these banks to appear as institutions insensitive to providing better customers' services.

Noticeably, during some of my visits to these banks, I always hear customers complaining about these poor teller services. At one of the banks, one of these banks checking account customers after waiting for hours without service, frustratingly said, "If I had my will, I could have invited the people from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to pay a surprise visit to these commercial banks."

He said such a visit should not be announced because by announcing it, it would give them notice to create false impression by increasing the number of tellers, so that when these CBL people leave, they will leave with the impression of better teller services. In fact, this is not actually the right picture on a daily basis. Likewise, at one of the banks with similar poor service, a customer in an angry tone jokingly said," If you have someone dying at the hospital and decided to come to the bank to withdraw money for the hospital expenses, the patient might die because such customers would not be served as expected."

The interesting thing about this whole issue of poor teller service is that the customers keep complaining, but continue to do business with these banks. As one puts it, "We will continue to bear it because it is not safe to keep money at home or under the mattresses." One of them said that the reason why he continues to do business with a particular bank is the lack of competition, as it relates to expansion of other banks' branches throughout the country. The person said only this particular bank has a branch in his county. He expressed the hope that one day if all of the banks should have expanded, there would be better customers' services. Furthermore, the person likened the situation of two evils, where one has to deal with the lesser evil.

Recently, an interesting situation took place at one of these banks with poor teller's services. The bank prohibits the use of cell phone in the banking hall. One of the bank customers, who had been waiting for almost two hours to be served, received a call and decided to respond. While attempting to do that, one of the bank's workers walked to him that it was prohibited to speak on the cell phone. The customer angrily responded: "If you want me to avoid cell phone, then, improve your services so that I would not be standing for hours when I have to attend to other matters."

Intuitively, considering the situation at some of these commercial banks, one can attribute some of the losses some of these banks continue to experience owing to this kind of service of having one person working for horrendous hours serving many customers. Such a person, given the volume of work, could reach a point of "diminishing marginal returns," whereby, productivity will plummet, thus bringing about an undesired or unexpected result.

Whatever the situation, the fact that despite these poor teller services for which customers have to stand in queues for hours and people are still doing business with them, should send a signal that there is still confidence in the banking sector. Therefore, these banks should do everything to improve teller services, meaning that they should increase the number of tellers, based on the flow of customers. At the same time, the CBL, which has done much in executing its statutory functions, should look into this matter for improvement.

I end here, but will continue to monitor the situation for the next few days. In fact, I pledge my support to the CBL on a pro bono basis to help with this monitoring process. Let's remember that "to whom much is given, much is expected."

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