The paradigm shift of the 21st century branch manager (4)
“Being Honest May Not Get You A Lot of Friends, But It'll Always get You The Right Ones”
Dear Readers, I hope my previous articles on the paradigm shift of today’s branch managers makes some meaning to you. It may seem a bit rambling to some people but of course so please pardon me. I am still looking forward to more responses from you. Some decades ago, branch managers were middle aged men with grey hairs, some pot- bellied, bald, round mid-sections and sometimes looking stern on the outside. Some people felt that being a branch manager, you should look like a disciplinarian and a dictator, but hey, times have changed. As you enter any modern branch, there is hardly much difference in the ages of the branch managers and the rest of the staff. It has its own advantages as well as disadvantages. The difference that makes one an outstanding branch manager is one’s attitude. From whatever section of the bank you come from, you can make it.
I became a branch manager from a credits background and had to learn the nitty- gritties of branch banking from my deputy and the officers and clerks who were far more experienced than I was. What helped me was that I made myself teachable despite my grade and higher ranking. Moreover I knew it was a temporary situation and I needed it for my progression. Funny enough, a few months down the line, I found myself detecting mistakes they did not imagine I would detect. It was all well and good and today, these “Young Trainers” are now found in executive positions in the banks.
What am I rambling about? The branch manager is still the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The main difference is the way technology has made banking so dynamic that if they don’t flow with the tide, they will drown in the sea. The principles behind all banking transactions remain the same, whether in the credit process, accounting, branch banking, investment, human resource management, treasury management, legal, etc. The main driving force again is technology. It has made banking easier, flexible, interesting, convenient, exciting etc, etc…….and yet very DANGEROUS. That is why a branch manager must be up to the neck with keeping pace with the global paradigm shift and also shift his soul, mind and body to blend with it.
The Branch Manager as a Treasurer: Improving Cash Flow and Cutting Costs
Every day, thousands of people withdraw extra cash for daily expenses. Each transaction may be small, but the total amount of cash dispersed over hundreds or thousands of daily transactions can be very high. Even though each branch is given a fixed cash flow, which they must work with, they do so without knowing what each customer will need on a given day. Customers expect their local branches to have adequate cash on hand, so how can a bank confidently ensure each branch has enough funds to handle transactions without keeping too much in reserve? The branches therefore are forced to keep additional cash in the vault to avoid having insufficient funds. But without a clear understanding of daily needs, some branches often ran out of cash anyway, while others have significant unused reserves, giving headaches to the Treasurer in Head Office. When a branch rans short, it creates high costs for the bank and the 21st century branch manager must be in charge: Usually they give customers three options: receive the funds as an electronic transfer, wait for specie movement from Head Office, Issue Free Payment Orders, or travel to the main branch to withdraw their cash. Having the right amount of cash in each branch vault would reduce costs and maintain customer satisfaction. Most times, the cash on hand to meet customer needs exceeded the requirements, and locks up idle funds which could be invested overnight inter-banks. Branch managers should be in a position to play the part of the treasurer by monitoring customers’ cash pattern with the deputy manager and make strategic cash flow decisions. They shouldn’t wait for that dreaded call from the Treasurer.
The branch manager as a Risk manager, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Aside all the gadgets and indices for determining the risk profile of an institution, a successful risk management project has a lot to do with the characteristics of the unit managers and their risk appetite. Let us look at some characteristics of the new breed of branch managers who are also acting as risk managers.
Risk is such a risky business that no function or activity in the bank should be taken for granted. Obviously a risk manager should be qualified and have all the relevant technical know- how. However we sometimes forget that the world of business is so dynamic that the demands of risk management should also flow with the tide. Let us even examine the dynamics of retail banking. The onset of the e-banking platform has eroded most of the functions of bank tellers. With the replacement of glass cubicles with counters, what new risks are emerging? A branch/risk manager should quickly research on best branch layouts factoring safety measures into the new brand. The risk manager should regularly be abreast with emerging risks in electronic banking and should be ready to recommend proactive solutions to meet this global risk. Risk management is not just saying no, no, but adding possible solutions to the exuberance associated with new projects and services.
Understanding the Role of the risk manager
An effective branch/risk manager must understand his or her role in the bank and how important it is. Apart from the numerous cases of chief executives being fired during bank failures or crises, the risk managers are also not left alone. Where there are state interventions and forensic audits, the questions asked by the legislators include, “Didn’t the risk manager not see the signs on the wall? Did they alert management? What did they do about it? Did they not know they are caretakers of the bank? Why don’t you discuss certain dangerous events properly to your bosses at the MPRs and make scientific, not emotional recommendations? Posterity will judge you dear manager.
A highly effective risk manager thinks ambitiously and challenges the status quo, bearing in mind the organization’s objectives. He or she understands that the past does not predict future results and is willing to think outside the box and go outside of the norm to achieve organizational objectives.
Being Humane and Understanding
In any position, it is important to care about the people you work with. The new breed of effective branch/risk managers have genuine concern for the people they work with and they let this show. They get to know their fellow employees, understand their concerns, and exhibit a win-win attitude in their efforts and collaboration with fellow employees.
Rolling up Their Sleeves
A branch manager must understand and analyze interdependencies across the bank. He or she must provide insights into relationships that unit, product, or project managers may not recognize due to their singular emphasis. The branch manager must stay neutral and avoid any biases. The overall picture of the bank should enable managers have access to sensitive data to enable them have a third eye which must be used responsibly in providing new insights and learning to the organization. This role requires a manager to roll up his or her sleeves and become involved in multiple areas of a branch functions to ensure that the branch team not only know what risk management involves but also actively participate in the process.
As a branch/risk manager, what language do you use? How well do you blend with all the three levels of defence in risk management? Effective risk managers embed themselves within the organization by being part of the whole. They understand the concerns of the board of directors all the way to the staff on the ground. In this regard, communication to the various levels should be appropriately worded. What makes them effective is that they are clear about and sensitive to the outcome they want to get from their communication and are flexible in their method of communication to achieve their outcome. They should be experts at building rapport and separate what is being said from the meaning they put into what is being said.
Life-long Learners –exploring all possibilities
Branch managers should be regular readers. If you believe that success leaves clues and that you can be successful by thinking and acting like a success person, then reading should be a part of your daily life. Reading books that will help you become a true expert in your field of your passion or challenge the limiting beliefs you know about risks.
Dear branch/risk managers, how do you fit into all these? Stay tuned for more next week.
To be continued
Do you want better service from your branch staff? Please buy them copies of my books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller,” and “My Front Desk Experience – A Young Banker’s Story”. Check out from the offices of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, the National Banking College in Accra. Call the hotline-0244333051 for special packages.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.