Book Review: The Modern Branch Manager’s Companion


Book Review:

BOOK TITLE: The Modern Branch Manager’s Companion

AUTHOR:  Alberta Quarcoopome

FOREWORD BY: Mr. Joseph B. Tetteh, Board Chairman, First National Bank (Ghana)

  1. OF PAGES: 440

REVIEWER: Sina Kamagate , Chief Internal Auditor (GCB Bank).

“Banking has to work when and where you need it. The best advice and the best services in financial services happens in real time and is based on customer behaviours using principles of big data, mobility and gamification” These are the words of Bret King an Australian Futurist, Author and a Co-founder of Moven, a New York based Mobile Banking startup.

This book is a product of more than 30 years of dedicated banking experience, teaching, training and researching through the evolutionary journey of banking. The Author expertly groups the book into three parts in a chronology that mimics the expectation of banking sector stakeholders (Regulators, Customers, Shareholders, Employees etc)

Part One sets the tone for the context of the book “THE PRACTICE OF BANKING”. As simple as the business of banking may look, it’s practice can be a nightmare if not preceded by the right mindset orientation. In this part, there are ten (10) chapters. Chapter One (1) starts with a question to the reader whether the choice of a profession of banking is the right decision. She talks about the time requirements of banking and the stress that comes with it.

The potential for the banker to miss some social life due to the time commitment of banking but ends with the opportunities that exist in the profession to provide some respite to the reader.

Subsequent chapters in this part talk about the evolution of banking from the period where banks focused on their main intermediation role to the period of sectors specialisation down to the Universal banking regime and ends with the digital era. She addresses the role of Branch Managers and how this role has evolved with time. Having rendered the role, she introduces the discussion on the banker –customer relationship; a relationship that is fiduciary in nature and has to be protected with the last arsenal of the regulator to ensure the on-going trust of depositors.

The account opening process which sets the tone for the banker customer relationship is expertly addressed in this chapter. The author stresses the need for the appropriate supervisory attention to be given to forestall any abysmal relationship borne out of failed customer due diligence and Know Your Customer (KYC) breaches.

The need for bankers to understand the art of selling is dealt with at the tail end of part one (1) with admonitions to Relationship Managers to adopt customer orientation “placing the customer at the hub of their activities”. This the author concludes will enhance the customer journey in the bank.

In Part two (2), the author who is a BBC (Born Before Computer) treats “DIGITAL BANKING AND RISK” in a fashion that qualifies for publication is any top research journal. She starts with a “digital branch” and describes the digital ambience of interactive welcome screens and walls meant to communicate the new era to the customers who access the bank. She identifies the products that make the digital era a reality. Products such as Intelligent Teller Machine for cash and cheque deposits, Mobile Banking (USSD “short code” and APP), internet banking etc. These products make customers their own Branch Managers. She compares the new era branch manager and the “old time” branch manager.

Knowing the “what could go wrongs” (WCGWs) or the threats that come with digital banking, she treats Operational Risk and the need for banks to have proper controls in place to mitigate same.

She recommends Risk Control Self-Assessment (RCSA) as a first Line activity of managing risk at the process level. Red flags along the Operational risk indicators of Systems, People, Processes and external factors are provided to guide the reader in their risk management. A rendition of the three line of defence now “the three-line Model” is provided with clear definition of each line’s responsibility.

In the words of Ron Shevlin the MD of a fintech Research at Cornerstone Advisors “the challenge for banks is not becoming “digital”- its providing value that is perceived to be in line with the cost or better yet, providing value that consumers are comfortable paying for”.

The author emphasises the need for banks to ensure that the digital platforms provided by banks serve customers’ needs and are robust enough to ward off any fraudulent attacks. In chapter thirteen (13) of the book, she treats fraud risk management in fine details with practical industry examples citing the Bank of Ghana (BoG) fraud report of 2019 and the recommendations. In this same chapter she goes biblical to the days of Moses and offers the “Ten (10) commandments to prevent internal fraud”. These commandments I recommend for every banker to print out, frame and hang for daily reminders.

Physical security, which is meant to protect staff and properties is treated in the ending areas of part two, re-emphasising the precautionary actions to be taken by all stakeholders to safeguard lives and properties. She provides some descriptions of attempted robbery attacks both successful and unsuccessful ones in the industry.

The COViD-19 Pandemic revealed the weak business continuity management practices in the banking industry accentuated by the unwillingness of banks to make heavy investments in Business Continuity Sites (Hot, Warm and Cold). Chapter 15 of the book treats Business Continuity from a practitioner’s point of view providing policy options to readers. Operational resilience risk which has become the talk of the banking industry is situated in the context of Business continuity which the author does justice to.

Part two (2) ends with the eye of an Accountant where the authors treats bank branch profitability; treating contentious topics like funds transfer pricing which has been the source of dispute in many Monthly Performance Review (MPR) sessions in banks. She introduces the need for loan book quality from a prudential regulatory point of view where she looks at provisioning based on past due and compares that with the requirement of IFRS 9- Expected Credit Loss (ECL). A practical example is given and simulated for the reader to appreciate the “monster” in ECL.

A bank that has five (5) branches in the same vicinity should ordinarily spread out customer traffic but strangely one of the five (5) could be the “go to” of all customers and even staff if given the choice to select preferred working branch. The question then becomes what makes the difference?  The answer is in part three (3) of this book “THE SOFT SKILLS”.

In the last part of the book, the author treats concepts like managing diverse personalities in the branch, coaching and mentoring, managing stress and burnout, pillars for success among others.

In this part she serves readers with her own experiences through the ranks and rise to be the head of department in one of the most respectable banks in Ghana UMB the erstwhile “Merchant Bank”.

In managing the new normal and Work From Home (WFH) she provides some insights on the health hazards and the need to introduce ergonomics in our daily activities. The book ends with the transition from active services to retirement or exit from the bank, and how to prepare your mind towards the triumphant exit.

For me, this book is a banker’s companion, and should be kept in the shelves of every bank stakeholder, ranging from staff, customers, employers, management, Board and relatives. It provides a guide to understanding how bankers behave, their burnouts and frustrations.

Academic institutions providing banking and finance should add this book to the list of recommended books.

Now to all my colleague Chartered Bankers, our profession has been vilified one post banking sector crisis, overrated in the society, and envied by other professionals. Grab copies of the book to help you meander these challenges.

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