Risk Watch with Alberta Quarcoopome: Life lessons learnt from my journey at Merchant Bank, now UMB

Alberta Quarcoopome
  • “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago” Warren Buffet

I wish to dedicate this article to two groups of people: The first group is the Board, Management and Staff of Universal Merchant Bank, (UMB), formerly known as Merchant Bank (Ghana) Ltd. The second group is all young bank executives in Ghana and beyond. I also wish to congratulate UMB on its 50th anniversary. Ayekoo. Its been a long journey, so keep the fire burning and continue to hold the “Merban” Flame high.

The First Lesson: No position is Permanent

I found myself in Merchant Bank on 2nd February 2000, exactly two weeks after I lost my job as the head office branch manager of Ghana Cooperative Bank. I am sure most of you have read about the first biggest “Twin Bank Collapse” when Bank of Ghana shut the doors of Ghana Cooperative Bank and Bank for Housing and Construction on 17th January, 2000. I am sure many bankers from the seven recently collapsed banks in 2017 and 2018 will understand the feeling.

Imagine being placed two steps lower than what you were, with all the perks, that is, from a Branch Manager to Relationship Manager! I was not too bothered considering the fact that thousands of staff from the two banks had lost their jobs, and I was the first to be employed thereafter. Yes, no position is permanent. Just remember that a situation that one may be in, can change any day. If this happens, just brace yourself and move on to prove yourself to the world that failure is not fatal.

The Second lesson:  Accept all job roles assigned – God has a Purpose for You

My first few months were tough but insightful. Although I was a Relationship Manager, I had to assist at the main branch every morning, helping at the “Entries Desk” with the other clerks. In the afternoon, I had to do Sales with the Marketing Department, combing the nooks and crannies of Accra, mobilizing new customers and managing the SME account holders and Private Banking Clients.

I could see good old Mr DB Ansah the Executive Director pass by the entries desk, watching me keenly as I manually originated vouchers for the Branch Manager to sign before crediting or debiting customers! I later realized it was a test of my attitude and knowledge. Fortunately, I passed the test. They were preparing me to be the Assistant Branch Manager in a few months.

The Third Lesson:  Never Compromise on your values

As the Assistant Manager, I had a good eye for details and was able to intercept one fake Payment Order which passed through our books, early enough to prevent its being given immediate value. This would have caused a loss of several millions of old Ghana cedis. Wherever you are placed, continue to work from your heart and remain diligent, not compromising on your values.

The Fourth Lesson: The world is round and small

In my elevation as a branch manager of our newest flagship branch at Ridge within eleven months in Merchant Bank and also as the first lady branch manager, I had to have relationships with most of the retired and exited staff, who preferred running their accounts at that new branch. Some were disgruntled because they had been “right-sized” by Management and therefore avoided the main head office branch. I realized the world is still round and I could also be in their shoes one day. I therefore made conscious efforts to be friendly with them. Again, I recall, no position is permanent.

The Fifth Lesson: Count on God in times of Trouble

My first blunder was in 2002 when a Teller in my branch, made a wrong posting by crediting a wrong account. As the manager, I should have detected the mistake, but I didn’t and we were both queried and nearly sanctioned. Apparently the wrong beneficiary squandered all the funds of more than four hundred million old Ghana cedis! Despite the embarrassment and hell we both went through, we did not lose our jobs because the culprit was apprehended and taken through the legal process and made to refund the money. Hmmm. That is when I believed that one can only count one’s friends when one is in trouble. Beware of “fair-weather” friends. When you make a mistake, no one will cover you. Be nice to everyone but count your true friends. Rely on God in times of trouble.

The Sixth Lesson: Don’t regard Transfers as Punitive

I was recalled to head office to join the projects Team working with some Malaysians on a new banking software. My main task was to capture the transaction processes into a new process flow which the staff would use as their reference when the system changed over.

This eventually became beneficial as I eventually worked on several process manuals as I journeyed along my career. It also sharpened my project management and teamwork skills. At every step on your journey, learn the new techniques well because one day you will refer to it on your life’s journey. You may even use the skill in your retirement age.

The Seventh Lesson: Situational Leadership is Key

For the first time, I looked at my boss, and told him that I was not returning to branch banking to be a “Mother Hen” again. A new flagship branch was being opened at Adabraka, and I was recommended. He reported me to the Managing Director who convinced me that I was needed to lead a group of young new hires who were not exposed in banking, and needed a mentor and a coach.

It was an assignment for six months. This was when the bank had transitioned from a Merchant bank to a Universal bank, with the fraudsters on the lose to take advantages of lapses they may detect in our operations. We were able to match the fraudsters boot for boot, and withstood all the shocks of attempted frauds in retail banking. That was best achieved through situational leadership, delegating, participatory, sometimes hard and soft, etc.

Surprising my tenure lasted three years instead of six months, and will always be etched in my memory as one of my most fulfilled positions in banking. This pioneer team has gone on to form the Adabraka Royal Babes which is closely-knit and continues to relate on whatsup and at functions, to enjoy our timeless relationships.

The Eighth Lesson: A wider span of control requires Servant Leadership

I returned to head office to work as a Branch Controller with concentration on studying activities in retail banking and reporting to the Head of Retail for strategizing and resolution of issues with management. Due to the wider span of control, I had bigger insights into all activities as it expanded my leadership journey, and the skills audit  made me  identify strengths and weaknesses of all staff in retail banking to make better recommendations to my boss. My country-wide visits to branches were insightful and I appreciated the work of outstation branches even more.

The Ninth Lesson: Sharing Knowledge is Caring

As the Manager at the Learning and Development Center, some people felt it was a demotion, but I knew that all transfers are transitions and not demotions. Perhaps Management wanted me to utilize my other strengths since I was a key resource person at the Training Department already.

Once again, I was able to put my knowledge of branch controller into practice. At this point, I understudied what the external facilitators did and realized that I could be one of them in future. Yes, never under-estimate a role assigned to you. It was also another happy moment as I shared knowledge with younger staff and watched them transition into experienced executives.

The Tenth Lesson: A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Once again, I was on the trail as Head of Operational Risk. As a new department, we had to learn new policies in line with the Basel Principles. I enjoyed my second travel countrywide among all branches and departments sharing practical cases on operational risk and fraud prevention.

Fortunately, my sojourn around several departments and my reading culture helped me practicalize most of my presentations. I had not realized that operational risk encompasses all activities within the bank. Knowledge is key in operational risk management and prevention is better than cure.

The Eleventh Lesson: The Nostalgia of work-life Balance

As a one-time President of MERLA (the Merban Ladies Association) I also learnt that togetherness in gender relations is key. This special bond of togetherness among the ladies was beautiful as we got Management’s blessings to share, learn, travel, hold functions which projected the Bank’s brand further.

The Twelfth Lesson: Leave a good legacy and bow out with Grace

If you want to exit or retire, remember to bow out with grace, leaving a good legacy as well. You will need a good reference in future, as well as make life-long connections with the people you leave behind. Good business networking always include former workmates. UMB was there to support me during the launch of my first book. Thanks guys!

Once again, I say congrats to all UMB Board, Management and Staff. You made it! Celebrate in style. You deserve it!


Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of Three books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story” and “The Modern Branch Manager’s Companion”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.


Website www.alkanbiz.com

Email:[email protected]alkanbiz.com  or [email protected]

Tel: +233-0244333051/+233-0244611343

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