When Banking Becomes A Nightmare | The Nation Online

Most commercial banks in the country have invested heavily in information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure in apparent bid to give customers convenience through roll out of cutting edge products.

Through their investments in ICT infrastructure, today commercial banks provide electronic and mobile banking solutions that enable customers to transact from any corner of the world and, above all, at customers’ convenience.

But while the banks continue to invest heavily in infrastructure as well as human capital to improve customer experience, it would appear there are some bad apples in the various commercial banks out to frustrate the processes.

Issuance of automated teller machine (ATM) cards and handling of customer queries or complaints are some of the areas where commercial bank customers tend to get frustrated.

It was little wonder when The Nation published a story in the Business News section under the headline ‘Poor service chokes financial sector’ based on findings of the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Financial Institutions Supervision reports for the period 2014 to 2018. Briefly, the report showed that poor customer service continued to dominate the list of complaints addressed to the regulator of financial services.

For instance, in 2018, out of 203 complaints received, 89 were related to poor customer care, 63 were due to financial abuse while 10 cases were due to lack of financial awareness and capability on the part of consumers.

While the National Switch (Natswitch) facility was supposed to be a game-changer for allowing commercial bank customers to use any ATM machine, the initiative turns into a nightmare when one’s ATM card gets captured—for whatever reason—at a third party bank ATM. The situation worsens where a third party ATM does not dispense cash and a customer wants a reversal or refund. It is a nightmare.

In one recent case, a friend confided that he had deposited cash into an NBS Bank account of her sister. He said for a week his desperate sister could not access the cash and upon enquiring from the bank learnt that the account was dormant or inactive. Ironically, though, the bank accepted a deposit into the so-called ‘dormant’ or ‘frozen’ account and even deducted fees from the money deposited.

In yet another incident, a month ago another friend had his Standard Bank ATM card captured at NBS Bank off-site ATM at Biwi Triangle Total Service Station in Lilongwe. It took him three weeks to get his card back. He never got it back and as the third party bank was still holding on to his bank and Standard Bank simply replaced his card.

Two or so years ago, I waited for over a month to have a transaction reversal after my account was debited, but the ATM of a third-party bank did not disburse the cash. I ‘attempted’ to cash from a National Bank of Malawi (NBM) plc ATM at Bunda Turn-Off Puma Service Station in Lilongwe using a MyBucks Banking Corporation ATM card. For a month, the two banks pushed me from pillar to post. I wondered how many other customers suffer in silence, besides the money not earning any interest during the 20-plus days the banks withheld it.

Banks can do better in the management of the refunds for abortive transactions than is the case now when one has to lodge a claim or complaint. 

If the ATM machine has not issued money, should it not be automatic to credit the funds back into a third party customer’s account? When it is within one back, the reversals are automatic why not apply the same to interbank transactions?

It would also be prudent if the regulator, RBM as well as Bankers Association of Malawi make it mandatory for commercial banks to put working contact numbers to enable customers contact responsible officers.

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic and its precautionary measures, most notably social distancing, commercial banks have moved to decongest the banking halls by restricting the number of customers at any given time. While this is commendable, most banks are giving customers a raw deal by letting them stand in the sun outside the banks waiting for their turn. Surely, it is not asking for too much to provide chairs and a gazebo for the comfort of customers.

Still on Covid-19 precautionary measures, while the banking halls are decongested, there is hardly any social distancing in some of the queues outside. It is like the banks feel one can only contract the virus inside the banking hall and not outside.

Time is money. It is high time banks spared customers from the banking nightmares.