Reflections of a national service person – “Am I a helper or an occupational hazard”?  (2)

“One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears – by listening to them.” – Dean Rusk


Hello dear Readers, how did you find the story of Vida, the National Service Person (NSP) on her first day at work? After landing her dream job, let us see how she goes through the various roles allotted her in the branch and see whether she was a helper or an occupational hazard to the bank. Despite the orientation she went through with her colleagues, the work environment was a real life eye opener and a bit unlike to what she has heard or learnt about. Please read on…..




Mixed Emotions

Working at the front desk involved a feeling of mixed emotions. Very exciting with new faces of customers, trying to get their transactions through while still trying to date you at the same time! My fresh face was very refreshing to both the staff as well as the customers. In the case of the men, it was sometimes a chance for them to deliberately ask for their balance from me even though they had smart phones to check from their internet banking accounts! Oh yes, in many cases they wanted to just “rap” me and let me be aware of their fat balances. In the case of those with two digit balances, they avoided asking for their balances. They would rather ask the tellers whom they are more familiar with. They did not want me to know their balances. Of course I couldn’t be bothered. Big balances do not move me.

I remember that during the orientation we were reminded that the appearance of customers has no bearing with their balances. I did not really appreciate it well. Can you imagine the huge engineering workshops in the neighbourhood that house over two hundred mechanics is a store of wealth? How can we also forget those ones in greasy overalls and palms? One day, one of them asked me for his balance, only for me to open my jaws wide in disbelief. It was the timely sound from my supervisor that stopped me from embarrassing myself. Fortunately the guy was so much in a hurry that he just whisked the completed balance form from my hands and rushed over to the counter to issue a cheque and withdraw money. Not all that glitters is gold. On the other hand, there was the case of the over-confident customer in a business suit, who came to perform a transaction at the front desk, and my, oh my, his balance was only a two digit one. This time I did not show any emotion. Silence is golden.

Account Opening Blues

Apart from all these, my most difficult moments at the front desk were those involving account opening for new customers. There seems to be an impression that the front desk is the easiest desk to work, but I bet you, your mind can go blank from the multi-tasking that is expected from you the whole day. Although I wish Angela has more time to train me, the work does not permit her to do that. I found myself in the next two months going through a maze, making one mistake after another. Taking a hard look at a customer’s signature with your naked eyes does not make you an expert in signature verification. There is no training program to sharpen our skills.  Sometimes I end up looking straight into customers’ faces almost rudely, to confirm the pictures in the computer with the actual person.

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I have been found wanting many times but the branch manager in a few situations had to apologize for me. Sometimes I get quite irritated when they expect me to work as if I know the rudiments of banking. One worrying thing I observed about a few customers was that they very well knew I was new and was understudying Angela, and yet those people preferred that I handle their transactions. When I refer them to Angela, they are not happy about it. It seems the transactions they want are strange demands. Can you imagine that some of them want me to confirm whether some transactions have landed on other people’s accounts? Fortunately, I am to ensure that secrecy prevails and nothing can make me divulge other people’s account transactions to third parties. In fact one of them offered me a bribe of GHC500 for me to give him some balances on some accounts! Of course I refused it and informed Angela. I suspect they are the ones dealing in stolen or cloned cheques.


Attempted Fraud

Let me narrate the case of two gentlemen, one was young and other middle aged. They approached me to open a company account with a GHc45,500 cheque drawn on the same bank.  There were so many red flags around them. They were not very confident, their behavior was strange, their freshly made passports, which we could not verify, made me jumpy and my intuition sent the usual signals to my brain. One was a supplier and the other a trader, and yet the account to be opened, which had the same name as the beneficiary of the cheque, was a construction company. They said they were in a hurry and even needed to cash some of the cheque proceeds the same day. Hey. As for this, I had to show it to the manager. Angela was out for a short break and I was made in charge of the front desk section for that short time.

I could have facilitated the account opening easily, looking at the prospects that these men were in a hurry to take some money and would possibly give me my share. I quietly asked them to spare me a few minutes, while I dashed to tell the manager of my concerns. Lo and behold, he was able to scan the folder in his computer which had a list of photographs of wanted criminals in the country. The middle aged man was a notorious fraudster and was wanted by the police for duping many businessmen and banks!! I was told he was an ex-banker in the 1980’s and knew the banking system very well. To cut a long story short, even though the drawer of the cheque confirmed the issuance of that cheque, it was in fact a stolen cheque from the true beneficiary’s office! The police also had a field day since their work had been made easy by my apprehensions and reported gut feeling and intuition. That was the end of those two fraudsters which could have cost me my career as a banker.

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The following day, I received a congratulatory letter from the managing director of the bank, for my vigilance and loyalty to the bank! Me? Vida, a common NSP? Yes, I was a common NSP and yet saved the bank and its customer from a big time fraud.

Now somebody tell me, am I a helper or an occupational hazard? Time will tell, and indeed, time is telling.


Preparing to be a Teller?

One fine day, the branch manager called me to inform me that since one of the tellers would be going on maternity leave in two weeks’ time, I need to be trained as a teller and take over from her! “My goodness”! I exclaimed. Me, Vida, to work with cash? I literally broke down in front of him, begging him not to put me through that “wahala” (trouble). I have to find a quick excuse. Perhaps I can even lie that I have asthma. I can always get my uncle the doctor to prepare a medical certificate to that effect. Did anybody hear that?, ha, ha.

“Why”? He asked.

I was stuck and couldn’t divulge some of my apprehensions to him. After much cajoling, I had to let him know a few of my observations made about the tellering function.

  • The work is too stressful, they have to smile by force. As for me, I can’t pretend and be nice to customers when I don’t feel like it.
  • Some of the customers are too intimidating and I can easily make a mistake when I am easily distracted.
  • They sometimes work for long periods without lunch or a rest.
  • They go through sleepless nights when they encounter shortages at the end of the day.
  • Some of them rely so much on the “looso” (tips) from customers that it becomes a dangerous habit. It can really lead to stealing if certain days are “dry”. I wish to remain unspoilt.


I will pause here. Next week, we shall look at what happened to Vida’s plea to be excused from working as a teller. Should she be excused or should be made to do the work assigned her? After all, she is a “mere NSP”! Herein lies the dilemma. How is she going to be trained? Does she have the attributes of a teller, or she just filling up the space and adding to the numbers? Who will be training her? Is the time adequate for her to be effective? If she makes mistakes, who will bear the cost?







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 ethics and fraud.


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