“The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication.” Malcolm Gladwell
How time flies. Last October, 2017 marked my fourth year of writing articles for The Risk Watch column of the Business and Financial Times newspaper. I will call it a journey of mixed emotions because the subject of risk covers every department, office, sector, country, continent and indeed every nook and cranny of this universe. I have managed to take advantage of the radius to venture into uncharted waters, as I try to fulfil my dream of sharing some of my experiences, both good and bad, with young professionals, to make them more risk conscious and strive for excellence. By this way they will be empowered to think outside the box and fulfil their dreams.
To quote from my first article on 14th October, 2013 “The Risk Watch series comprises of articles that focus on various risks faced by bankers in their daily routines and how best to avoid or mitigate these risks. The average entrant into the banking world sometimes focuses more on the overall aesthetics around the job, the “cool” factor, than the intricacies of the job itself. After all, the bank premises are usually beautiful and serene, and the huge bill boards dotted around town always depict beautiful people with offers of mouth-watering packages. The ultimate aim of “THE RISK WATCH” is to take young bankers through the journey of banking and finance, wading through the turbulence (the darker side) as well as the glittering (lighter side), and thereby facilitate the adoption of a balanced view of their job as they stay afloat to enjoy a beautiful career and leave a good legacy behind them”.
These articles have indeed covered all areas of risk in financial institutions. It has been an undulating path of sharing my opinions on several banking disciplines such as the basics of banking, the banker-customer relationship, risks and prevention of cheque fraud, account opening, the teller function, the customer service experience, personality profiles, fraud in many areas, selling of products, the betrayal of trust, internal fraud prevention, segregation of duty, the culture of silence, organizational change, the Risk manager’s role, loving your job, the reflections of a National Service Person, the blame game, safety at work, fighting red flags, collaboration, coaching and mentoring, sad reminders about the collapse of banks, and so on. I am sure that many readers would at a point ask what on earth I was doing venturing into other guru’s territories. In all my articles, they had a link with risk management. Please pardon me for reminding you about things you would prefer to sweep under the carpet. That is why risk is a matter of balancing the returns to ensure that a company’s bottom line does not suffer from losses arising from errors and fraud.
From Bank staff to Customer – A Unique Experience
I describe my journey as undulating because I started writing when I was still working in a bank. Since I came out, my position has changed to that of being a customer. That is why you find some of my articles written from the point of view of the customer. Do you remember the story I coined involving a trader at Kantamanto Market in Accra, (Kwame Sarpong) who was contemplating opening an account in a bank instead of keeping it under his mattress? Very funny. My turning point as a banker turned customer gave me a unique experience. There were times I honestly felt like teaching some of the bank staff some basic risk management procedures at the front office! For example, they just leave correspondence openly on their desk, tempting customers to read and possibly steal them if the information gathered is useful! In these days of hidden cameras and whats’up, any information can be sold to the media even for a pittance.
Some Awesome Experiences
Apart from the subject of risk, I also appreciated certain personalities whom I encountered in my “travels”, and received awesome service from. They are too numerous to mention here. It is all in appreciation of the fact that it is not always about negative things that can happen on the job. In my training programs for entry level staff, I always emphasize that the beginning of their careers should never be taken for granted because it is the stepping stone to greatness.
Appreciation to all Readers
Without buyers and readers, any newspaper of book, for that matter, cannot flourish. I am indeed grateful to my readers, especially those who have called, e-mailed and linked me up on facebook and link-in and even browsed my company’s website. Dear Readers, you have also sent me valuable recommendations. Indeed these have spurred me on to write my two books (THE 21ST CENTURY BANK TELLER – A STRATEGIC PARTNER, and MY FRONT DESK STORY – A YOUNG BANKER’S STORY) within the last two years, incorporating some of the insights received from your feedback. I also wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to my colleagues in the banking fraternity whom I cannot mention here as well as the National Banking College and Institute of Bankers, Ghana.
Reflections of some Unprofessional Experiences:
- Lack of knowledge: Not allowing me to endorse a personal cheque to my own Company account! The bank lost deposits. They did not even refer to the supervisor.
- Suppression of house cheque? Dear banker, do you want me to call several times before you give value to a cheque that I had lodged into my account drawn on a customer of the same bank? Seriously……this can lead to legal suit and reputational damage. Banks don’t work like that.
- Not following up after enquiries are made on investments……they think the customer can wait. A simple enquiry can result in useful leads…so don’t just sit there for the customer to call again. Time is money.
- Calling elderly customers by their first names in a very indigenous local community…Hey this is Ghana. It was not an Airport City Branch. Watch before you lump all customers into one basket or group. Some should be addressed by their titles to make them feel good. After all, customers are chiefs and queen mothers. Reserve first names for the students. (Please use Doctor, Reverend, Maame, Madam, Opanyin, etc, if you know their titles)
- Shouting on top of voices at the back office, hence revelation of customer information and breech of the duty of confidentiality.
- Collecting cheques and paying cash to customers without even looking at their faces. Who knows, you may be paying based on mistaken identity, or an alien from another planet.
- Using technical jargons in explaining issues to customers, causing more confusion. The quiet customers gradually leave without even saying a goodbye.
- Delays in cheque book delivery, leading to playing of “ping pong” between two branches!
- Don’t forget that silent and non-complaining customers are “killers”. They “vote” with their feet by going away without a fuss.
- Complaints are gifts in disguise.
Lessons to Share for Young Professionals:
I am sure you will be wondering why I use today’s article to write about myself. It is about sharing experiences with my main target group, the young professionals, and for them to note that it is never too late to dream or change your circumstances, if you prepare, plan and focus on your goal or dream. It is a matter of time because not all that glitters is gold. Banking is not a glamorous job. It is pure hard work! Work hard, pray hard and play hard!! Banking is not a place for short cuts.
Some Risk Management quotes to close the year 2017:
- “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana
- “The key to risk management is never putting yourself in a position where you cannot live to fight another day.” Dick Fuld
- “To make a mistake is only human; to persist in a mistake is idiotic.” Roman Cicero
- “A good rule of thumb is to assume that everything matters.” Richard Thaler
- “If you don’t invest in risk management, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, it’s a risky business.” Gary Cohn.
I close the year with prayers for God’s guidance for all bankers and pray that no bank goes through painful liquidation or collapses. May the risks you go through in your workplaces become good risks and lessons in your banking journey.
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.