Until the Bank of Ghana gets tough on banks and applies sanctions on them for treating customers unfairly, the practice will not stop, banking consultant, Dr. Richmond Akwasi Atuahene, has told the B&FT.
His comments come in the wake of a report by the Market Conduct Examinations Office set up by the Bank of Ghana, which revealed serious lapses in the structures, systems, and processes in place to promote consumer protection and the early resolution of customer complaints, and to generally assess compliance with relevant market conduct rules.
According to Dr. Atuahene, poor and unfair customer service have been going on in the industry for a long time and customers’ sentiments have never been taken seriously by banks, especially those with small deposits; hence, any proactive effort by the regulator to end these unprofessional and unfair practices should be commended and supported.
For him, it will not be enough for the regulator to just expose what the banks are doing to their customers, but must follow-up with severe sanctions in order for them to take issues bordering on customer service seriously – as all customers have been victims of unfair service one way or another.
“It is important for the Bank of Ghana to apply sanctions so that the banks can treat their customers fairly. Just consider one typical example with ATMs. Sometimes, you want to use the ATM and you get there and the machine will tell you ‘out of service’. In most cases, this is because there is no money in the ATM. Meanwhile, that customer decided not to go to the banking hall because he knows he can withdraw from an ATM closer to him. If this is not poor customer service, then what is it?
“So it is a very laudable move from the Bank of Ghana, and they should really enforce it very well. Some of the banks are really taking advantage of customers by charging unapproved fees, among others. It happened to me some time ago. I wrote a cheque for someone, and because he cashed it at a different branch, even though it is the same bank, I was charged a fee. So this is an example of the unfair treatment of customers I am talking about. The Bank of Ghana should really be tough on the banks for poor customer service,” he said.
Major breaches found in the report
With regard to guidelines that were flouted by the board and management oversight of complaint handling function, it was established that some banks’ Consumer Reporting Officers (CROs) were not submitting reports on customer complaints to the board, as there was no evidence of Boards of Directors reviewing the CRO’s reports for policy directions.
Again, channels provided by banks to enable customers lodge complaints, such as SMS, website portals and dedicated telephone lines, did not function; as well as under-reporting of complaint data to Bank of Ghana, and non-compliance with the regulator’s complaint-resolution timelines.
Under unfair banking practices, the findings showed that customers’ savings accounts were charged for over-the-counter withdrawals below stipulated minimum amounts; and customers were automatically signed onto E-banking products and services and consequently charged without their explicit consent.
Another serious breach of customer trust by banks is changes made in terms and conditions of loan agreements, which were implemented without the required period of prior notification to customers.
Then, under the disclosure and transparency requirement breaches, the findings reveal some borrowers were not provided with pre-agreement disclosure statements prior to the signing of loan agreements; while others were also not clearly informed of the requirement to submit their credit data to credit bureaus, and to conduct credit searches on them when taking loans.
There is still more, as the findings further reveal data protection breaches. Personal details taken from remittance customers were subsequently used for telemarketing promotional activities without the consent of affected persons; and abandoned forms or slips used by customers for balance enquiries and other transactions were not properly disposed of – thereby, exposing customers’ personal details to third parties.
Again, on marketing and advertising, some of the banks investigated were unable to deliver on their marketing promise of disbursing certain loan facilities within 24 hours.
And with regard to ambience, some banking halls and ATMs were found to be inconvenient to the physically-challenged. Besides that, the report adds, there were instances when hawking activities were allowed in front of some banking halls.