Alberta Quarcoopome’s thoughts … Use relationship banking to protect your customers’ funds

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“Challenges are what makes life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful” — Joshua J. Marine

In this era of pandemics, all banks are reminding their customers to go digital. This is a very good advice to give, but how is this being implemented? Let us look at some feedback from customers, about the numerous text messages received from the banks:

Quotes from customers:

  • “Is sending just a bulk SMS enough”?
  • “They know I am illiterate and do not even read messages, so what are they telling me”?
  • “Nobody is even helping me to go digital. They think it is just a game. How do I go digital with my analogue phone”?
  • “Is that to shun me or my money? Do they love my money but not me”?
  • “Don’t they know that without customers, there is no bank”?
  • “Don’t they know that it is the small coins from customers that are put together to pay them”?
  • “Have they even asked me how I am faring in this lockdown era?”
  • “Are the customers the only carriers of the virus. Don’t they know that I can also be infected by them”
  • “Is the banking hall even fool-proof of the virus”.
  • “If I empty my accounts and keep it at home, who suffers”

Relationship banking is the competitive edge

Assuming you are multi-banked, you will realize that the messages from banks urging customers to avoid the banking halls and use digital banking are framed in a similar language. Very formal and impersonal. Digital banking has made all banking the same, however it is the relationship banking aspect which adds on the virtual follow-up with customers, that makes some banks stand out and get absolute loyalty and advocacy from their customers. It is the implementation that makes the difference. Let us see how two banks implemented theirs:

Bank A:

When the central bank directed banks in Ghana early 2020 to activate their Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) to protect the banking system and their customers, it became imperative that banks needed to segment their customers for a practical solution. Bank A’s strategy was to segment various customers various characteristics.

For example, their net-worth, business sectors, account activity, type of account, withdrawal patterns, deposit patterns, lending types. In this age of artificial intelligence, various behavioural patterns of customers, trading partners, individual psycographic characteristics were isolated. As staff were made to go on scheduled leave or work from home, a task force was established to monitor the work of the various account officers or managers to follow up on the customer group allocations.

Although some staff worked from home, they were on their toes interacting with customers, checking on the following:

  • Health and family situation
  • Business trends
  • Relationship with buyers and suppliers
  • Method of payments adopted with their trading partners eg. E-commerce, delivery services, alternative channels of payment transactions, etc
  • Advice on staying safe and sharing tips on the COVID 19 virus and its future
  • Sharing some words of encouragement when needed.
  • Consoling those who have suffered from bereavements, etc
  • Regular calls to ensure customers monitor their bank transactions to confirm all transactions.

Bank B

Bank B is a state bank with many staff who do not really care about relationship banking. After all, “country broke, or country no broke, they dey inside”. There is no desperation or compulsion to mobilize funds and bonuses are not performance-related, so many staff just go through the motions daily because funds are assured from state resources!

BCP activation involved putting teams in groups to work on shifts while most staff went on leave. Whether customers emptied their accounts or not, signed onto their digital platforms or not, was not a big deal. Since it was a peak season for fraudsters, the bank suffered from some cheque frauds, while customers on analogue phones had no trust-worthy person to assist their sign-on. Many customers continued to flock the banking halls through no fault of theirs.

Dear reader, what are your thoughts on how the two banks handled their customers during the pandemic?

Within the last decade, many banks have been compelled to digitize most of their systems to meet global demands. Changes in customer preferences and expectations, new competition, and new technologies are transforming the nature of banking. Digital transformation is often considered a technological issue  — building the best tech, partnering with the best fintechs, etc.  However, one of the biggest challenges is not technology, but rather the people.

Opportunities are created in crisis

In view of the heavy expenditure being made in digitization, managers must also ensure that staff remain focused on ensuring customer loyalty through closer interaction, both physical and virtual. A balanced approach would enable a bank not only to improve operating efficiency but also to upgrade its capabilities to respond to market needs which are imperative to the success of a bank’s operations and profitability.

The digital transformation has also brought in its wake, new risks causing an unexpected increase in the number of frauds and losses to banks. Managers must therefore train their staff to be able to identify potential red flags in both physical and virtual banker-customer interactions, monitor transactions to ensure banks secure a win-win situation, while minimizing operational risks and reputational damage.

Danger signals in pandemic era

I have discussed the benefits of activating the banks BCP in a pandemic era, which is obviously not business as usual. Dear managers, let us use this era to highlight the red flags in the banking environment which can be overcome through some basic and practical steps. This is definitely not the time to sell bank products. It is rather the time to consolidate any gains made in your mobilization drive and seek best means of protecting the customers’ funds and advise them of best means of their utilization while waiting for normalcy to resume. Even that, we should know that the banking business is now turned into a new normal mode, both traditional and virtual

Let us refresh ourselves of some basic danger signals that bankers should watch out for:

  • Heavy bank withdrawals without any deposits.
  • Regular transfers of funds to other banks
  • Issue of cheques above the average trend of the customer
  • Sudden increase in funds to be transferred through the ACH above the average amounts.
  • Cheques issued from the middle or last range of cheque leaflets, and unavailability of customer during the cheque confirmation process.
  • Sudden requests for disinvestments without clear reasons.
  • Email responses indicate that customer is out of town leaving no forwarding address or contact.
  • A tech-saavy customer absent from social media for no reason.

Monitoring Customer Accounts:        

It is not practical to call all customers, but this the time for Relationship Managers to be in constant virtual interaction with as many customers as possible, especially those who are a big source of funds to the daily operations of the bank. Due to social distancing, relationship managers or credit offers can still be in virtual contact to check on their families, business connections, new alternative payment channels and advice on security of the usage of the bank’s digital platform.

Merely asking your customer to download the app does not complete the advice. Going through the process with them through various communication means is the ultimate. They need to know what not to do, to compromise their codes. Some illiterates get assistance from friends and family and finally get their accounts emptied.

Dear banker, crisis periods are booming seasons for fraudsters out there. Advise customers on the usage of their cheque books, visa cards and bank apps to ensure their accounts are safe. Cheque confirmation processes should be done outside the box, asking unusual questions to ensure confirmation of payment instruments are properly confirmed before the accounts are debited.

This is the time you can be friendly with your customers through regular communication so that no intruder can impersonate them. You can use a different confirmation code and other unusual queries, and this will make a customer stay with your bank for life. After all, they know their backs are covered. Imagine a relationship manager who uses video calls to confirm high ticket customer cheques. Sometimes she asks customers to send selfies of themselves in front of their shops!! Can you imagine? While respecting customers’ privacy, this is the time to use creativity, so long as it is legal and practical.

Email hacking and impersonation of customers are rampant in this era where customers are sometimes unable to come to the bank. The requisite indemnity for electronic transmission should always be updated to benefit both customer and banker.

Dear reader, these are basic tips or food for thought that may not be found in books.

Please stay relevant, be in touch with your customer, and protect their funds. Remember that without customers, there is no bank.

Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud. 

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