Risk Watch with Alberta Quarcoopome: Branding vrs safety in the banking wall – a risk management perspective (I)

Alberta Quarcoopome

“Know where to find the information and how to use it. That’s the secret of success.” – Albert Einstein

Hello Readers, recently, I have developed a special interest admiring the uniqueness of every bank’s branch layout in various parts of the world. The beautiful pictures displayed on the internet never seize to amaze me. Sometimes I wonder what thoughts went into their creation. This week, I will look at the creativity in the structural designs of various banking halls and its relation to risk management. I am a layman in branding but permit me to ask this question. Are banks creating retail branch settings that are safe, enjoyable and inclusive for their customers while still being great places for their staff to work?

“The mixed feelings”

A recent chat with a niece about her experiences on the job as a bank teller set me thinking and has compelled me to start this series. She said, “I work in a heavily populated business district where over ninety percent of our customers’ transactions are in cash. Customers bring sacks full of cash on an hourly basis for me to count. Sometimes the money is stacked high in front of me, even blocking the view of the depositor while I count. There are occasions that I feel scared and imagine what will happen if one of them, or a third party pulls a gun in front of me!”

Ironically she also talked passionately about some insights as well as skills she has acquired in her relationship with the customers. Fortunately there is a bond being developed in her dealings with customers which is proving beneficial.

This was a really complex one, which showed that her feelings were mixed: sometimes good, sometimes bad. Based on the recent frauds and some cases of robbery, she is becoming risk conscious on the job, and wondering whether it is safe to work in that environment. I managed to cool her down and counseled her to concentrate on the good sides of the job.

I decided to scan the local environment and see how banks in Ghana are managing branding with safety and risk management.

Branding and Risk management? 

Since I am not an expert in the area of branding, I will simply look at what the experts say and make some recommendations on how banks can blend their brand strategy with their operations and systems to make it effective in risk management. Branding and risk management needs to be “bed fellows” so that customers and staff alike enjoy the “feel good” factor.

The old and new banking combinations

I have always said in my previous articles that banks in developing countries practice a combination of the eighteenth and twenty-first century banking. Why do I say so? While the transactions of most customers continue to be handled in cash, the modern trends in banking such as ATMs, internet banking and cash-less transactions are also found predominantly among the young and sophisticated. Despite the advent of ATMs and “Self-Service Desks to decongest the banking halls and reduce queues, the BRICK AND MORTAR concept still reigns supreme for now in our part of the world. The branch structures are still very relevant to fulfill the universal banking principles of the “one stop” banking. 

The Ideal Branch design

As a layman in branding, I believe simply that an ideal branch design therefore requires the following considerations:

  • The needs of both staff and customers.
  • The building of ergonomics, health and safety and accessibility principles into the workstation design, work processes and branch facilities.
  • The staff should be comfortable, and motivated and productive, while helping to provide better services to the customers.
  • The Brand: what the bank’s brand stands for.
  • The power of visuals and how it can be used to gain interest from customer.
  • Thinking as a customer – looking at the world through their eyes and the reasons for patronizing the bank’s products and services.
  • The importance of convenience in relationship building with customers.

Creating the bank branch to be the final destination. 

With all these recommendations listed above, I believe branch layouts or designs should indicate one distinct message: THE BRANCH IS THE FINAL DESTINATION. There should be no reason for the customer to wish he or she was referred to another office, unless the service requested should be handled by a specialist department. 

A Bank’s Strategy

At the opening of a new branch in the Ashanti Region, the Managing Director of a big universal bank stated his Management’s direction: “The branch will serve as the opening of our first model branch. The banking hall in terms of its design, interior décor, branding and all other furnishings will serve as the minimum standard for all our future branches to be opened. We shall undertake a refurbishment exercise in all our branches to match up to the one we have here. The restructuring and refurbishment of our banking halls is to give customers a modern feel of their bank and create a very good ambience for customers to carry out their banking transactions”

This is really good Mr. Managing Director. As we enjoy the beautiful surroundings and ambience of the new branch designs, are we taking note of the comfort and safety of BOTH customers and staff alike?

The Risk Management’s Perspective in branch designs:

Next week, we shall go into greater detail about brand strategies which should incorporate risk perspectives. Until then here are some questions and comments as food for thought: 

  • Are there entrance and exits into and from the banking hall? If yes, why do some branches open the front door for staff before opening and also after closing? That is the perfect time for armed robbers to ‘pay a visit” to the branch when the vault is opened and the cash till boxes are unopened. Could it be a tip-off from an insider? 
  • If not, where should the staff exit from in case of an emergency? A mad man entered a branch which had only one entrance. You can imagine what happened!
  • Specie movement to a branch with only one door means that cash is carried through the front door, in full view of customers! 
  • Strong rooms or vaults are just safes or enclosures at the back office. Does your safe or entrance lock include a combination lock with dual control?
  • Is there an electronic access to your back office, to restrict unauthorized entry to the back? I have observed that this device is sometimes treated as a bother and some staff actually use an object to block the door from closing so that they can come and go and avoid the scanner device!!! Will we never learn? 
  • Are some tellers hiding behind the cloak of shelter provided by the structure which prevents their supervisors from seeing what is going on and monitoring tellers? They can snob customers without any supervisors’ notice and get away with it. After all, the customer service staff sitting in the banking hall are busy with their own customers and sometimes can’t be bothered with queue management. 
  • Assuming a teller decides to short pay customers deliberately, she may know that the CCTV is positioned wrongly and her actions cannot be detected! 
  • Where are the CCTV systems placed? Who and how can it be monitored effectively? Is it a white elephant in your branch? Oh what a waste! Do we wait for an incident to occur before we detect that its positioning is wrong, or the system has even stopped functioning? 

The list is endless. I can go on and on, but suffice for today.

Have a pleasant week. Until then, just scan your branch structures and measure your risk “barometer.”



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:alberta@alkanbiz.com  or [email protected]

Tel: +233-0244333051/+233-0244611343





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