“Together, we are powerful. Containment starts with you. Our greatest enemy right now is not the coronavirus itself. It’s fear, rumours and stigma. And our greatest assets are facts, reason and solidarity.” – Tedros Ghebreyesus (Director-General of the World Health Organisation) – February, 2020
As I write this article, I do not know the next directives that will come from the government of Ghana. Despite the imminent possibility of a shutdown, I just wish to share these simple tips as we rush to prepare to meet our financial needs to fight the coronavirus pandemic. To ensure safety of citizens amid the coronavirus outbreak, many banks in Ghana are asking their customers to use digital banking facilities while also taking measures to establish a safe, secure, stable and affordable retail payment system. In this article, I will attempt to add some tit-bits for both customers and banks as we endure the state of uncertainty common among all countries affected by the coronavirus. In our everyday lives, we need money to pay for food, medicines, utility services, and all the essentials of life. Money, or physical cash – which of late is being replaced with e-money, is now regaining its former status as king. Should it be so?
Yes, these are scary times. But that doesn’t mean you should head to the bank, drain your accounts and put your cash under your mattress. Banks are to continue ensuring that their customers have access to funds either directly or electronically. However, the risk posed by handling a banknote is no greater than touching any other common surface, such as handrails, doorknobs or ATM cards.
Tit-bits for Customers
Dear customer, after the recent sanitisation of the banking system by the Bank of Ghana, the remaining universal banks are well-capitalised, so let’s see how we can observe the following tit-bits:
- There is no need to take out all the funds from your account.
- Bank deposits are insured, and the safest place for your money is inside a bank.
The banking sector is so much better capitalised right now than it was during the 2017-2019 financial crisis. Regulations have also benefitted them.
- There are reports about how physical forms of money could be contaminated by the coronavirus, so this the best time to patronise digital banking services offered by all the banks.
- All the banks have mobile apps that link mobile money accounts to your bank accounts, so why not start making most of your payments through these bank apps and mobile money.
- In avoiding crowds and practicing social distancing, pay your cable television fees, water, electricity, school fees etc. without leaving the house.
- Many big retailers and smaller merchants are not only accepting these forms of payment; they are actively encouraging their use.
- There is therefore no need for people to run to the nearest ATM or bank-teller to try and get their hands on as many cedi notes as they can.
- Please note that hoarding cash at home leads to contamination, possible theft by both members of the household and from robbers, causing sleepless nights.
- While going digital, please beware of online stores advertising goods for sale, especially on Facebook and Instagram. Ask for guidance from trusted people to investigate whether they are genuine sources. Ensure delivery is made by them or a trusted source. Be sure any digital transfer is to the genuine source.
At the Banking Hall
Despite the Bank of Ghana’s measures to promote a cash-light economy, some customers will eventually enter the banking hall to make cash withdrawals, initiate or collect ATM cards, cheque-books; deposit cash, deposit cheques in the banks where the remote cheque capture process is absent, etc. Banks in market centres continue to receive huge cash deposits from traders in the vicinity. Here are some tit-bits to share:
- Sanitise your hands before you enter the banking hall.
- Where there are no revolving doors, if you have to touch the door-handle, please use a tissue or your elbow or body to push.
- Although banks are now sanitising their working tools and environment, one should not assume all is perfect. Avoid using the pens lying on the counters for public use. They may be contaminated. Use your own, or else sanitise it before you use it.
- Don’t write your in cheque-book or complete any forms on the counters. Carry a book or a hard surfaced object, place it on your lap to complete them.
- Leave a comfortable distance between yourself and the bank staff in observing the social distancing directives.
- Customers depositing bulk cash should also wear masks to avoid the dirt that comes out of the cash during the machine-counting process. This is the right time to advise clients to pay for goods digitally.
- Wash your hands immediately and sanitise.
- Best of all, please don’t cough or sneeze into the air. Cough into your elbow and use a tissue to clean up and sanitise your hands immediately.
At the ATM
Keeping an adequate cash reserve at home is prudent for all households now; not hoarding as such, but enough cash to cover your necessities. Just like in the banking hall, treat all ATMs with caution; both the cash that comes out as well as the machine itself.
- If you can, sanitise the keys/buttons before you touch them.
- Sanitise the ATM card
- Wash or sanitise your hands thoroughly before you touch your car’s door-handles, steering wheel or any other part of the car.
- Don’t forget the car-key itself. Don’t give the car-keys to your child to play with. Toddlers love the sounds that come from handling a bunch of keys. Hmm. The pure innocence of children!
Global Measures adopted by Banks
Let us examine what some global banks are making in adjustments to help keep their customers and employees safe. Several major U.S. banks plan to limit branch access and enhance drive-up access and mobile banking due to the coronavirus outbreak, while also offering additional flexibility for customers taking a financial hit.
- PNC Bank has limited lobby access at branches to primarily drive-up mode, with about 75% of its branches remaining open but with fewer banking hours.
- Bank employees are working on a rotating basis and no layoffs are planned.
- Customers that need safe-deposit access, to close a loan or other in-person service should make an appointment.
- BBVA USA announced closure most of its 637 branch lobbies to the public and operate drive-up service, citing the coronavirus outbreak and concerns about its employees, customers and other members of the public. The bank announced several items to boost flexibility for customers: These are deferred and extended payments for customer loans and credit cards; ATM fee-waivers and refunds; and penalty-free withdrawals for CDs opened before March 1.
- Regions Bank announced it would waive several fees and provide additional flexibility for consumers who need to withdraw funds from their accounts. It has also implemented new banking hours, including limited lobby access in favour of drive-through banking and in-office appointments. The fee changes include the following:
- Penalty-free CD withdrawals
- Fee-waivers for excessive withdrawals from savings and money market accounts
- Loan payment deferrals and extensions with no late fees
- Payment extensions on credit cards with no late fees
- Consumer mortgage payment forbearance and payment deferrals
- Suspending car repossession for 30 days
- Suspending residential foreclosures for 30 days
Local measures by Ghanaian banks
The cybercriminals have intensified their exploitation of human weakness to penetrate systemic defences. There are recent reports of hacking among some banks’ systems by criminals, leading to some heavy losses. The COVID-19 is being used in a variety of malicious campaigns being executed in virus-afflicted countries – including email spam, Business Email Compromise, malware, ransomware, and malicious domains among others.
Even though Ghanaian banks have also started implementing some policies, let me recommend the following also:
- Extra scrutiny of insiders, outsourced firms and former staff who have privileged information, since the environment is creating opportunities for people to engage in cyberattacks.
- Restructure loan repayment schemes, mortgage repayments.
- Regular electronic reminders to customers, encouraging them to shift from cash to digital transactions. This should go along with basic education about its usage to prevent beginners from being defrauded.
- Encourage beneficiaries of inward remittances from abroad to patronise their transfers into mobile money accounts or bank accounts and transfers made by themselves.
- Review working policies. I have observed that some banks have directed a percentage of their staff to take compulsory part-leave to enforce the social distancing directive by government. They are running shifts and staff-rotation.
- Reduce the banking hours and introduce drive-throughs to reduce human contact.
- Increase the daily limit for withdrawals and transfers by digital routes to benefit business clients.
- Enforce compulsory wearing of face masks by the Bulk Cash Tellers, and install dust-extractors to sanitise the environment.
I hope these tit-bits are useful for some people. Meanwhile, let us stay safe.
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.