RISK WATCH with Alberta Quarcoopome: Obstacles can be blessings in disguise!
Alberta Quarcoopome

“Wisdom stems from personal accountability. We all make mistakes; own them… learn from them. Don’t throw away the lesson by blaming others.” -Steve Maraboli

As part of reducing internal frauds, I wish to touch on one of the most sensitive issues in risk management – THE BLAME GAME. From the history of bank crises, banks do not fail just because of inadequate systems and processes. It is also about the people within. One may think that by having beautiful buildings, beautiful brands, the state of the art equipment, there will be no fraud or crisis. Sometimes when something is “too good to be true’, we need to take it with a pinch of salt.

When incidents and losses occur in financial institutions, their management is crucial. Many times the blame game is based on hearsay or from the rumour mill.  Some of the commentaries made by staff can be rather distasteful, but that is the reality of the job. As human beings, when it comes to the last crunch, it becomes a survival of the fittest, and we build defensive walls around ourselves. There are cases when top management blames the staff, while the staff also blames the top management. Have you ever made a “disastrous human error” (not even fraud) in the office? Did you see how you were treated as an outcast? That is the period you know your true and genuine friends. As for the internal fraudsters, we can say they outsmarted the system, but they were eventually found out. All the fraud and losses scenarios boil down to a few questions. Could they have been avoided? Didn’t the bank have any inkling when the fraud started? What risk red flags were hoisted by the “responsible persons”? How do the banks manage their risks?

Breaking News at the Office!!!

Let us look at some common scandals in financial institutions that triggers the blame game, as well as some of the commentaries by staff members that circulate the message with the juicy details:

  • Scandal: Have you heard that Akosua has caused so much financial loss to the bank? She manipulated the IT system to honour a cheque of GHC78,000?

Commentary: “What else do you expect? She was becoming untouchable and could not be controlled in the system.”

  • Scandal: Have you heard that the Chief Teller in branch A has suppressed GHC67,000 within the past ten months?

Commentary: “Don’t mind them. For all you know they were all sharing the booty”

  • Scandal: Have you heard that the Branch Manager in Branch C has granted GH40,000 unauthorized overdraft to a customer, who has vanished with the money?

Commentary: “Only God knows what happened! It seems the Manager’s exploits was not the first time. Hasn’t the reports been showing such incidents all the time? What did they do about it?”

  • Scandal: Have you heard that yesterday’s torrential rains has caused a flooding of Branch D, causing all their computers and electrical gadgets to be destroyed?

Commentary: “Serves them right. What happened to all the checklists they made on the siting of branches? Did they not listen to the caution of some of the Committee members about the area being flood-prone? What was all the rush about when there were safer places to site the branch?”

  • Scandal: Have you heard of last week’s burglary at Branch X? Can you imagine that the Police Guard was not on duty and the CCTV was also not working?

Commentary: “Ha ba! As for this one, there is something in the soup!”

Scandal: Have you heard of the armed robbery on the cash van on a day they were unaccompanied by the Police Guard?

Commentary: “How many times have the Cash in Transit not been cautioned about this? Who is in charge?”

Scandal: Have you heard that the vault custodians in branch Z have been placed behind bars when a spot check by the Auditors revealed a cash shortage of GHc65,000?

Commentary: “No wonder! Didn’t the whole bank see how they were flaunting wealth all over the place? Just look at their cars. They costs more than the car loans given them”

Scandal: Have you heard that the National Service Personnel in the IT department owes a fleet of taxis? He was siphoning customers’ small monies into friends’ accounts and he has been remanded.

Commentary: “How come? What authorities were given to him? Was there no checker in the department? Whose passwords did he use? Who audits the IT department? Is there no system auditor?”

Scandal: Have you heard that Lady Pee, the finance officer has stolen funds from dormant accounts?

Commentary: “Eeh, wonders will never seize! She was everybody’s darling, so quiet and well-behaved. It was as if butter will not melt in her mouth!! Nowadays, fraud is no respecter of gender”

Scandal: have you heard that Miss. Cee is building a storey building with borrowings from a bank customer. She has failed to honour her obligations, so the customer has written to the bank.

Commentary: “What with all the peer pressure around her? Did her office colleagues not notice her sudden change of lifestyle?’

Scandal: Have you heard that the front desk Officer at Branch M stole a customer’s cheque leaflet and used a friend to cash GHc13,500 from the customer’s account?

Commentary: “Where were they keeping the cheque books? What control measures were in place? Isn’t the manager always gallivanting in town in the name of deposit mobilization? How well does the next in command know what happens at the front?”

The Initial questions

The list of bank scandals which causes losses to the banks in the long run is endless. The initial questions that follow is the beginning of the blame game. It usually starts with:

Who is the Manager?

Who conducts checks on the department?

Didn’t the auditors reports reveal the signals of possible risks in the department?

Didn’t he or she have friends in the office, who may have alerted the manager about their suspicions?

What could have caused this “fine lady’ or “fine gentleman” to commit such a crime?

It is not my fault!

Eventually these cases are sometimes prosecuted by the law enforcement agencies while some are investigated internally. It is not my fault, we all say. We point to the devil, their manager, the bank structures, etc. The blame game then starts. The Disciplinary Committee sits on the cases and watch the progression of the Blame Game, sometimes to unhealthy levels.

How well do you know your staff?

Dear bankers, how well do you know your staff? Friends, how well do you know each other on the job? Do you have clear cut job descriptions that guide you? Who monitors your work? Who checks the supervisor? Who is to report incidents or suspicious transactions? Dear Manager, if you’re constantly blaming someone else, are you really leading? Taking control of risks in a bank is your responsibility as the leader, no matter what stage of the game it is.

I am not an expert in human resource management, but there are very practical ways of knowing your staff well, and very basic methods you can use to spot and even prevent staff from falling prey to temptation on the job. I will attempt some of these next week.



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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