ReflectionsBanks Merger: will it make any difference! [Archives:2004/729/Opinion]

April 15 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
[email protected]

Last week I heard about an impending merger of the many state banks and as I have no idea about the banking jargon, the banking systems, let alone the different elements of arithmetical calculation and other related matters, I really do not know whether this serious intended step is good for our ailing economy or not. Thus, I shall restrict myself to my personal experience of treatment in two state banks and a third of the private type.
I have always thought that because banks are dealing in money and as a matter of fact their work involves mathematics on a constant basis, a science that has taught man orderliness, shaped human life and achieved evolutional strides, I was certain that I would find a better atmosphere over there and, God willing, this time anticipated improved circumstances. To my complete surprise I found out that things, instead of advancing, are deteriorating. What! Even in banks. Bank employees are supposed to be precise, active, helpful and well organized. To tell you the truth, I always hate to cash cheques at Yemeni banks because of the unruly treatment of clients. This time some company owed me money and when I asked for cash they said that they deal exclusively in cheques and that if I would like to get my money I should have to take a cheque.
I was angered at the idea but I had to accept, so I went to one of the nearest banks and upon arrival it appeared as if I had just entered a Qat market, due to the uproar and hurly-burly situation I found there. I discovered that people are not treating each according to his turn but according to who reaches first, who knows more employees and who is ready to use the services of the ever-present helper.
The helper is a man or woman closely connected to the bank (an employee, office boy or a servant). He or rarely she mixes amongst the clientele of the bank and helps to expedite formalities in return for a tip. As I could not get anywhere and the time was approaching the end of business hours I had to accept the offer made by the said helper. While waiting for the helper, who took the cheque and the ID card and went from one place to another, one of the bank clients standing next to me complained that the bank cheats with regard to interest and according to him bank employees who manage not to pay the originally determined interest get percentages in return for their good services.
I had a glance at the helper and saw that he obtained various signatures. Obviously as he is well known to the bank employees and of course they know what he is doing, and they quickened formalities because as I noticed he entered their small cabins freely without any protest or impediment.
Anyhow, at last he came out to me with the money and told me that it is all O.K. and that I could go. I thought, “Well, as long as this man is not that persistent like his equals he verily deserves YR1000 instead of the usual YR500. Happy with the tip the helper went in search of another prey.
As the amount was in YR100 banknotes I thought it was inappropriate and impractical to stay and count the bundles and I sufficed myself with a quick look at each bundle and thought that all was well. When I returned home I told myself, “Why not check if the amount is exact”, so I started counting and just as I feared most of the bundles were either YR200 or YR300 less than the supposed amount. The ultimate amount lost summed up to YR3000.
The problem does not lie in the amount lost, but this is a portent of an underlying defect in our banks. I told myself that there was no problem, that it was merely a petty cash and there was no use crying over spilt milk. But, hold it! Does the same happen to foreign guests who might have to approach such banks? Therefore, let us seize the opportunity of the state banks merger and remedy such overlooked illnesses.
After this incident, I thought about the treatment in our banks compared to the European ones and found out that there was a widening difference. There, as soon as one enters, he or she ought to take a number and then wait for their turn. When approaching the counter the competent bank employee takes the required documents, which are expediently handled, and immediately one obtains the amount of money, no mess no fuss, just as simple as that. In European banks one feels comfortable and happy because people are treated equally and the process goes smoothly (there is no need for a helper to quicken the pace). The impending merger of our state banks must take into account raising the salaries of the banking sector employees (a minimum salary limit should be determined) so that they do not have to snatch from money bundles. Those in the anterior counters should be exceptional in their manners and treatment towards the clientele. The one-turn one-number system should be introduced so as to get rid of unnecessary delays. Less bureaucracy and reduced paperwork should be considered. The employees in direct contact with the patrons of the relevant bank should be always under scrutiny and video cameras should be installed so that bank executives can have a look at the daily work process, namely where clientele are involved. Shaping up the banking system is a key factor to encourage a good investment climate.