Are we moving forward with the lessons learnt? (1)


“Never let a good crisis go to waste”…Winston Churchill

Happy new year to all readers. I am grateful for your support and feedback on my social media. You challenge and spur me on to continue my journey of sharing issues on operational risks in the financial services sector. Please keep the comments coming.

2020- The year of mixed blessings

There are several descriptions of the year 2020. They include the negative result of the covid 19, the difficulties, hardships due to job losses caused by closure of many businesses and so on. Was it always doom and gloom? The misfortunes sometimes turned into gold. Out of the difficulties and obstacles, came innovations, new products, self-help, creativity and in banking, the push to implement previously slow-moving projects like digital banking. 

In line with the various directives from the government, many banks had to activate their Business Continuity Plans (BCP) in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. Social and physical distancing meant that many bank staff had to either take their leave or work remotely from home. One notable change, in my opinion, is the sudden increase in virtual meetings, workshops, conferences and training programs, aided by the power of technology.

Instead of making the usual new year resolutions, I recommend that we use the first half of January 2021 to reflect on the various lessons we have learnt from the recent occurrences in the banking sector, from the years 2010 to 2020 and the mixed blessings of 2020, and how we can use these lessons to move on with our lives and careers.

Digital Banking:

  • Although digitization has been with us for several years, the pandemic and social distancing directives have caused customers to have fewer reasons to go to branches, so the personal aspect of their relationship with banks have almost completely disappeared. What happened to all that valuable information that the front desk staff (mostly customer service or sales staff) used to check to find out what products to offer to customers? It is still there. Except, without the right data analytics tools, it is useless.  Artificial Intelligence can help banks rebuild this personal relationship with customers in the digital space using advanced data analysis. They can learn about people as much as possible, the same way the bank staff would do. Using machines to personalise human interactions is nothing new. Now that bankers have better access to them, there is a need to utilize them to their advantage.

Bank-fintech collaborations:

  • “Fintechs started to emerge in the western world during the early 2010s. First, they were viewed as competitors. The tables have turned when, with the rise of challenger banks, a new breed of banking consumers has also emerged. Many more customers are financially savvy, think more about about convenience and will not settle for less. The fintech firms started going to banks with ideas on how to build better customer experiences. And slowly but surely, they have gone from competitors to collaborators. The pandemic and the social distancing protocols have compelled most customers to log on to bank apps and new products that makes banking easier. I love the competition of which bank’s app is more reliable. 2020 saw many banks collaborate more with the tech firms to seal deals that are driving bank customers to get more confident about using digital banking  across an industry hindered by robust regulation and legacy systems. Meanwhile what they lessons are bankers learning from this to thrive in an ever-so-competitive market? 

Taking personal care of customers:

  • Taking care of customers’ financial needs is not just about rolling out flashy apps. This is the time to continue the relationship banking to a new level by ensuring that customers do not get the idea that banks are offering them one-size-fits-all tools. They must adopt a holistic, personal and proactive approach to financial fitness instead. Then build capabilities to monitor how individual customers’ behaviours change and personalise customer interactions accordingly. Let us use the example of using artificial intelligence to identify people with no salary coming into their current accounts, can be flagged to receive offers for emergency loans and updates on available relief options. Similarly, cash flow patterns can also reveal which customers are financially stable for the time being but have a good chance of being hit with financial trouble in the future. Then banks can remind them to transfer money from one account to another to cover upcoming bills, alert them of scheduled transactions, and so on.

The Future of Cash

  • Will cash be a thing of the past in the post-COVID-19 world? In just a year, COVID-19 has managed to fundamentally disrupt the philosophies, processes, and systems of societies across the globe. One thing is for sure; our future will look very different. The financial services industry is no different. The shift to digital financial services has forever altered the banking experience. Even before the global pandemic, the way we use money has been changing from traditional cash-based transactions to utilizing various forms of digital payments. The COVID-19 crisis has expedited the demand for contactless, globally-connected, digital financial services. Cash is no more king. How are you advising your customers to adapt to receiving payment of their products through other means apart from cash? Now the sellers of groceries and food along the streets and in the markets have displayed their mobile money numbers for prospective customers to pay into? That should not end the transaction. Are you also advising them to transfer their mobile money receipts into their bank accounts, to benefit from the additional security, investments and data for bank monitoring? Where does this leave us? COVID-19 has highlighted that offering digital financial services is likely a critical factor for the survival of community financial institutions as cash disappears.However, for the financial industry as a whole, the solution to cash will not be as simple as “turning on” digital services. For banks, offering digital financial services will require integrating with core banking technology to support the demand for digital payments.

New Means of Communication:

  • One other feature that stands out for me is the new means of communication both for internal communication as well as communication with customers and the outside world. With the aid of technology, banks are able to communicate effectively with all their teams, both onsite and offsite. Contrary to the initial perception by some bank staff working remotely from home and who believed that communication will not be as consistent as when they were physically present at work, it surprised them that they were monitored more intensely from their offices or by their supervisors. While securing their computers with the VPN software, to prevent hackers from disrupting the live banking transactions, they are also being monitored to ensure they do not idle. Meetings are constantly being held on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Despite the constant interference by family members, it has proved helpful. Any lessons learnt here? Juggling family and work together to get a win-win situation.
  • The new means of communication, aided by technology, has come to facilitate learning. Instead of flying across the globe, sleeping in hotels and incurring costs in foreign currency, many organizations resorted to relying on webinars, virtual training, on-line courses and regular performance reviews to keep up the tempo of work. What are the lessons here? Despite social distancing, sharing of knowledge continues. Interestingly more people are benefitting from the webinars, whether paid or unpaid. A typical example is Ghana’s Economic Forum held on 9th November, 2020, organized by the Business and Financial Times newspaper. The theme was on resetting the economy beyond covid 19 – Building Economic Resilience and self-sufficiency. Various CEOs of banks, insurance companies, the Ghana Association of Bankers, Bank of Ghana, The University of Ghana Business School and KPMG! Once it was made available on virtual platform, more people benefitted from the education. What have we learnt from this? There are several learning platforms to educate one’s self and move on with invaluable knowledge. Use it and enhance yourself.

Next week, we shall examine more valuable experiences we have gained from the occurrences in the financial services sector, that we should not take for granted.



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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Lessons Learnt in the banking sector

  • be your brothers or sister’s keeper
  • not the time to war, but jaw-jaw
  • learning to work from home and be more responsible
  • learn how to juggle family and working times
  • getting more closely-knit to family
  • fear of loss of jobs and its associated stress

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