A Question for the 21st Century Banker: … am I in the right profession?

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something we love is called passion.” ― Simon Sinek

Dear readers, this week I want to pose a question to bankers of today: Are you in the right profession?  What do we mean by the ‘right profession’? In view of the current phase of banking today in Ghana, which has passed through consolidations, mergers and acquisitions etc., this question has become more relevant. We have started 2019 on a supposed clean slate, whereon banks have made arrangements to meet the minimum capital of GH¢400m. Last week, my article highlighted some random reflections on 2018, as well as random reminders for 2019. With the last two years of turbulence still firmly etched in the memory of bankers of today, there is need for a paradigm shift in the way banking is now conducted.

The effects of scandals on bank staff

For the first time in the history of banking, scandals dominated all the media outlets, whether print or electronic. It was a period when the blame-game was at its peak. Many bankers at all levels felt disrespected, abused, embarrassed – and the noble profession’s reputation found itself in the gutter. Many members of this noble profession ‘fell from grace to grass’, although this description is highly subjective. However, I believe these challenges have turned into opportunities for those who can see them. It is not all doom and gloom.

The demands of the banking profession

We are all aware that we now have 23 universal banks which have the Bank of Ghana’s approval to operate. It is not business as usual, because the conditions that bankers now operate under are very strictly monitored. Some common keywords being touted on a daily basis regarding banking business are ‘fit and proper’, ‘corporate governance’, ‘sanctions’ and so on. The recapitalisation to GH¢400m is therefore not the recipe for having a successful bank. Banking demands the exhibition of several key intrinsic and extrinsic qualities to ensure professionalism and success. Some of the qualities expected of bankers are:

  • Honesty
  • Knowledgeable
  • Pleasantness
  • Good communication skills
  • Tolerance
  • Empathy
  • Reliability

As humans, not all these can be seen in everyone since everybody has unique            personality traits. Some are intrinsic while others need to be acquired. As for the     honesty bit, there are no two ways about it. You might be the most well-qualified on the job, but when any aspect of dishonesty is detected you will be sent packing and sometimes end up at the counter-back of the nearest police station.

Given the above expectations of a banker, please ask yourself again: “Am I in the right profession?” Do you have a good work-life balance?

Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance has always been an evolving concept, which was heightened in the 1980s. It is about achieving the mix of business and personal life that’s right for you. Due to our human differences, the term ‘personal life’ means something different to everyone. With some people, it may be spending more time with friends and family. With others it may be just having a good week-end enjoying parties, attending a club, sporting activities, spiritual events, funerals and social events, travelling or even upgrading yourself. To others it is simply not carrying work home.

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Research has also shown that certain aspects of banking can be quite stressful. For example, sales and marketing, front office functions, supervision of staff and leadership. Research shows that when there is little satisfaction on the job, illness and burnout occurs. For example, a failure to achieve life balance leads to higher stress, absenteeism, and lower productivity at work. In addition, working long hours can increase stress and anxiety, which can have a number of serious effects on our health. These include:

  • Frequent headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Persistent insomnia
  • Clinical depression or anger-management issues
  • A weakened immune-system

When you think you are spending too much of your time and energy on one area of your life at the expense of another, you can also feel guilt, regret and frustration. This can have a negative impact on your personal relationships and self-esteem. This is the time to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Once you lose steam and the passion is over, it is a danger sign. Ask yourself: Am I in the right profession?

From Archeology to Zoology

A few decades ago, banks employed only graduates of Business Administration and Economics. Banking and Finance was not offered in our universities. That is why some of us who graduated in the 1970s could not enter the banking industry immediately. As the functions of financial intermediaries evolved, the concentration of recruitment policies was on people who had a good attitude to work and were people-oriented, since banking is a service industry. That is when graduates from A to Z were employed to use their attributes to mobilise prospects, while serving them well to retain them.

Banking is no longer an arm-chair business. If one is not adaptable to change and serviceable, the customers have several competitors to go to without much fuss. The focus on marketing and sales has its disadvantages due to the lowering of some standards in account opening, which allowed unscrupulous persons to enter the fraternity both from within and without.

With all these transformations going on, graduates are expected to upgrade themselves at their own cost. Study leave is a thing of the past. Stagnation makes one prone to redundancy. So, let me ask the question again. Are you in the right profession? With regular directives and new expectations, one cannot perform the same function forever. There is no job for life anymore.

Targets! Targets!

Modern banking requires both on-site and off-site interaction. Sales personnel have to comb the nooks and crannies of every part of the community to mobilise deposits. The irony of this part of the business involves risk-profiling the customers to prevent unwanted ones who may be likely to indulge in fraud and money laundering. Assuming you are the quiet and unassuming type of person who cannot initiate conversations to cross-sell or market the bank, it means that getting up every morning to go to work becomes a nightmare.

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There is competition among staff, resulting in some indulging in unethical acts to meet targets. If you cannot look for prospects and have no marketing skills, please learn the skills or explore the possibility of moving to another department. Sales mobilisation is not for the faint-hearted. If you are not boisterous and a ‘people person’, please think again and ask yourself: Am I in the right profession?

Teamwork

A bird’s eye-view of a typical branch shows teamwork among all staff. Where one person’s role ends, another person’s role starts. If you are not a team-player, work slows down. Banking processes are highly regulated because the banker-customer relationship involves a legal contract that can end up in court. Staff who cannot work with   others require an exit. It is not an entrepreneurship programme wherein ideas are bounced around for others to try and follow.

Creativity is mostly found in departments like marketing and product development. All others cannot be changed without approval.  If you cannot work with the team, then perhaps it is rather an opportunity for you to quit and start your own business that would be more fulfilling. Ask yourself: Am I in the right profession?

Confidentiality

However well-meaning you may be, banking is not journalism where secrets can be leaked to create some sensational news to sell a newspaper. All staff sign an oath of secrecy.  If you are someone with ‘diarrhoea of the mouth’, then the earlier you stop the better it will be for you. The details of information that you come across is privileged and should never be divulged even after exiting the bank. I use a lot of cases of events in my training programmes for practical demonstrations. Apart from information that is published from the courts, I do not have the right to divulge banking transactions to third parties.

Next week, I will continue to ask questions about how you are coping with the new structures put in place to facilitate corporate governance and ethics. Stay tuned.

To be continued…….

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 for training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.

CONTACT

Website www.alkanbiz.com

Email: alberta@alkanbiz.com  or albique@yahoo.com

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