Risk Watch with Alberta QUARCOOPOME: Corporate insomnia: what keeps bank CEOSs awake at night?


A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.” Colin Powell

What’s keeping top company executives awake at night?

This week, I wish to dedicate my column to Bank Executives in Ghana, especially the CEOs. Why am I doing that? Someone would ask: “Are they not the ones who are earning six-digit bonuses and ride in fine luxury cars?” Hold it. Not all that glitters is gold. Today I will explore the serious side of banking which keeps many bank executives awake at night. It is a yeoman’s job but can also be a lonely position. Some of them go through turbulent times, which sometimes make them grey very fast (smile) although the grey hairs are also elegant. This column is to encourage them in these turbulent times in the Ghanaian banking scene.

Stress and Burn-out on CEOs: The Case of the CEO of Lloyds Banking Group

In an interview with the Times magazine, Antonio Horta-Osorio, Lloyds’ chief executive has said the job nearly “broke” him, dealing with serious insomnia shortly after joining the bank in 2011. In a discussion of the details of his troubles he stated that within months of starting the top job, he spent nine days at the Priory clinic to prevent a nervous breakdown, after his insomnia reached a tipping point, that he said was affecting his abilities.

“It almost broke me,” he said. “I thought I was Superman. I felt I could do everything. Before this, I had thought that the less sleep and the more work, the better. It showed me I was not Superman. And I became a better person, more patient, more understanding and more considerate. It was humbling but you learn.”

He saw a psychiatrist who provided ongoing help.

“I was not used to asking for a lot of advice or showing a lot of [emotion] because I’d been a CEO since the age of 29 and it is a very lonely job – people require leadership, even in moments of adversity and difficulty,” he said. “To go from there to this humble experience and learning to ‘share’ with someone else, yes, it required some learning, I admit.”

Speaking of the bank’s state at the time, Horta-Osorio described it as “life-or-death”, saying he felt “very personally about leading the team to turn it around and give the taxpayers’ money back”.

Fear of failure 

CEOs are human and they feel insecure from time to time. We often assume that people in high-powered positions are somehow exempt from such feelings. However, this is not true, and CEOs struggle as much as anyone else with the inner critic that tells them they aren’t good enough. There will always be voices of self-doubt, which can in many cases lead to loneliness. Occasionally we meet a few CEOs sharing their fears of  showing off as fallible and undermining their perceived ability to succeed.


The effective use of digital tools allows for increased productivity and efficiency, heightened competitive advantage, stronger employee engagement and greater customer insight. Many executives across every industry say digital innovation is one of the things that keep them up at night. The competition from the fin-techs companies offering alternative banking at cheaper cost as a result of branchless banking is another monster staring at bank executives. Day in and day out, new software are launched with banks being forced to integrate them in their banking software systems. With less emphasis on infrastructural  expansion, banking halls are becoming less busy. After all, many young customers (the Millenials and Generation Z) as well as sophisticated customers have deserted the physical structures and prefer digital banking, self-service, ATMs and social media for their banking enquiries. So, what should the bank do with the physical space? Lay off some branch staff? ….. Another expensive exercise.

Pressure from the Board of Directors…Targets! Targets!                                      

Is it the CEOs who give themselves those outrageous targets to impress the Directors, or they were forced on him/her? Most bank staff now have individual targets to meet as part of the mobilization drive. While the younger ones are stressful when they don’t meet the targets, the Bank Executives also have their own stress levels. Sometimes there is a need to review the budget during the year to make the expectations more S-M-A-R-T and achievable.  Board meetings become dreaded and all levels of staff get stressful. The bank executives keep awake at night trying to solve the jig-saw puzzle of filling the empty spaces.

The Dwindling Margins

Another headache is the dwindling margins or margin compression. Many customers are financially savvy and would not want to leave their funds idle. More customers prefer term deposits rather than leave their funds idle and not earning any interest. The so-called cheap deposits or “CASA” are becoming more difficult to mobilize. Banks who have high rates of term deposits are unable to make the needed margins on these deposits and end up incurring high operational costs and of course, more sleepless nights for CEOs.

Challenges faced by Today’s CEOs

  • Diversity. …
  • Attracting and retaining top talent. …
  • Building A Strong Management Team. …
  • Developing next-generation leaders. …
  • Nurturing A Strong Company Culture.

The Corporate Culture – Blending the Old and New

Managing risk 

Today CEOs will avoid a scandal at all costs for fear of detrimental consequences on reputation, and brand. CEOs don’t want to end up on the wrong side of the regulators but this can create a double-edged sword because overcaution about regulatory contraventions is causing risk aversion, lack of innovation and the curbing of creativity.

Securing new talent/young people 

CEOs are still competing in the same talent field to secure the best graduates. However, the values of young people have drastically shifted in the last decade and today they have shorter-term horizons and less institutional loyalty. Today’s youth desire value and purpose to be authentically a part of organisational culture.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG)

CEOs are under increasing pressure to respond to the climate crises. This creates a paradox where they are caught between short-term obligations to shareholders and the long-term decisions they need to be taking. Focusing too much on the long term gives unsatisfactory results in the quarterly figures, so they often favour short termism and act wilfully blind to long term realities. Falling populations, rising water levels, mass migrations of people, the depletion of limited resources and so on were seen by most as important, but did not override the more pressing issues of growth and returns.

The Ghanaian Bank Executive

Coming nearer home, we can see that gone are days when banks put more of their funds in Treasury Bills to make a margin. The Ghanaian banking scene has also got its fair share of hiccups. The Bank of Ghana and the Government has always resorted to enacting several Directives and Acts to bring more sanity into the financial sector. Despite the seeming glamour around the bank Execs and CEOs, the past few years have witnessed several difficult hurdles to be crossed and they are also facing very difficult times in meeting the BOG directives. The Pain of Regulatory Burdens is another factor to be considered at another forum.

My Final Words

Dear bank executives, whatever happens in the ensuing years, yours is to leave a good legacy wherever you work. These are trying times but please forge ahead and not lose focus otherwise the internal and external fraudsters will cause more havoc to the banking system through the systems, people, processes and external events. Moreover, there are many money launderers who come in the form of big investors. They only want a place to make their illegally acquired funds look “clean”. Ghana does not need those people. All is not lost.

I wish you an enjoyable leadership journey.


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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