Are you becoming irrelevant in the digital banking era? (2)

“When digital transformation is done right, it’s like “a caterpillar turning into a butterfly”, but when done wrong “all you have is a really fast caterpillar.” – George Westerman, Research Scientist at the MIT Centre for Digital Business 

 Dear Readers, let me start with this quote: “I have learnt that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles one overcomes while trying to succeed.”

Last week, I highlighted a series of concerns currently being expressed among some bank staff working in the digital banking era. Their concerns mostly pivot around the positive but intrusive 4th Industrial Revolution – wherein most transactions are powered by artificial intelligence and the power of collaboration with fin-techs is taking banking to a new level. It is like a roller-coaster of highs and lows. Highs, because of the enhanced speed and delivery of service. Lows, because of the reduced need for human intervention in some of the services delivered – leading to a loss of jobs.

Before I continue, let me take you back to the business of banking as it has evolved over the centuries. In the eighteenth century, banking was just acceptance and lending of money. Numerous other functions have evolved, thus making banking the most heavily-regulated sector in most economies. The latest regulation in Ghana, the Banks and Specialised Deposit Institutions Act 930 (2016), was established to cover various activities in the banking sector. It states that:

“A Bank or Specialised Deposit-Taking Institution Shall Not Carry On a Business Other Than Any of the Following:

(a) acceptance of deposits and other repayable funds from the public;

(b) lending;

(c) financial leasing;

(d) investment in financial securities;

(e) money transmission services;

(f) issuing and administering means of payment including credit cards, Travellers’ cheques, bankers’ drafts and electronic money;

(g) guarantees and commitments;

(h) trading for own account or for account of customers in:

(i) money market instruments, (e.g. T/bills <12-mths),

(ii) foreign exchange, or

(iii) transferable securities; (CDs)

(i) participation in securities issues and provision of services related to those issues;

(j) advice to undertakings on capital structure, acquisition and merger of undertaking;

(k) portfolio management and advice;

(l) keeping and administration of securities;

(m) credit reference services;

(n) safe custody of valuables;

(o) electronic banking;

(p) payment and collection services;

(q) bancassurance;

(r) non-interest banking services; and

(s) any other services that the Bank of Ghana may determine.”

What a long list! This should give consolation to bank staff – that for so long as they remain in banking, they can still be marketable in many other areas if they have the expertise to move into them. This is where the problem is.


Since the advent of a universal banking licence in 2003, all banks in Ghana are operating under this licence. However, without the requisite expertise, banks are unable to explore and invest in some of the permissible activities listed above. This is a good thing, because banking is unique and drives the economy; and is not a playground for trial and error business.  When you scrutinise the list of activities carefully, you will realise that most of them are now performed digitally as a means to ensure seamless delivery plus greater speed and accuracy. Now, let’s go back to the issue of staying relevant in the digital banking era.

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Paradigm-shift in skills required for Banking

There has been a shift over the past decade in the type of skills leaders say they are looking for. Organisations are looking for employees which can work well with new technologies but also display leadership, creativity, empathy and curiosity. This shows that it is not enough to have only technical skills related to digital services and artificial intelligence. In making reference to the permissible activities, banks have collaborated with fin-techs to perform transactional services in all aspects of banking.

Let us take some of the services listed and see how useful human beings can be for optimum service satisfaction. These are money market instruments, foreign exchange, transferable securities; (CDs), participation in securities issues and provision of services related to those issues, advice to undertakings on capital structure, acquisition and merger of undertaking, portfolio management and advice, keeping and administration of securities, credit reference services, safe custody of valuables. The transactional processes can best be done by digital means for speed and accuracy. However, how many of these services can best be delivered through human beings?

Re-Tooling Bank staff

The labour market is becoming very vibrant. However, since banking is a human institution with much concentration on customer-centrism, Management of banks would not normally just go out on a recruitment spree to bring on board new functionaries for the sake of it. While finding skilled workers and retraining current employees is imperative, digitalization always result in some job losses because some employees would not be employable after the process or may not be able to adjust well in the new digital era.

This phase needs to be handled with tact and transparency, with both the customers and employees at heart. In our part of the world with high illiteracy rates, what are the customers’ priorities?  Millennials banking in an upstage urban branch only needs digital banking to survive. They do not have time to meet bank functionaries unless there is a problem. However, an illiterate customer in a small remote branch of a rural community prefers to engage with people, since he or she may not understand the intricacies of some transactions.

Re-tooling bank staff should never be cast in stone, because bankers need to know their customers’ personalities, needs and expectations in every setting. Identifying employees who are not too technologically-inclined but more relational-inclined do best in customer advisory, assisting with those who need simple services.

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Several years ago, it was a teller who saved a customer from closing his account. He had been poorly handled and was noisily disturbing other customers with his rantings. Even when he was called to the manager’s office, he remained adamant until one of the tellers – who was the most pleasant among the lot and had good cordial relations with him – came to the manager’s office to explain and calm him down. Do you know what the customer told the manager afterwards?  He said: “If it wasn’t because of Miss XXX, I would have closed my account!” Yes, that is the power of positive influence!

In this era of digitisation and AI, many customers are enjoying the convenience of virtual banking. However, let a customer encounter an e-banking problem like hacking, cyber-crime etc. on their accounts and you will see how the relationship changes and where the blame-game starts!

The combination of technical skills and people skills is a must-have for every banker. According to Jim Marous, Co-Publisher of the Financial Brand, Owner/CEO of the Digital Banking Report, some ways humans will be used in the future of work include:

  • Increasing current human capabilities – Employees can leverage automation and advanced analytics to provide advice to a far wider array of customers which previously would not receive such advanced solutions.
  • Increase trust and confidence – While technology can handle routine transactions, humans can perform more advanced functions…assuring customers that new technology has not eliminated the ‘human touch’.
  • Increase transparency – Humans are the best to discuss how AI and other technologies are being deployed within an organisation to inquiring customers.
  • Internal training of skills and talents – Employees across the organisation are beginning to be concerned about their roles in the future. Up-skilling and personal development will be key to providing the talent needed.

Let me pause here. Next week we will look at various ways both bank staff as well as banks can retool to build a stronger organisation of employees and leaders prepared for a digital ecosystem today.



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.



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