For a long time, Malawians who transact businesses in the country’s commercial banks have decried congestion in banking halls characterised by snaking queues that rendered air conditioning systems useless, especially in the summer.
Back in 2012, in a Business Unpacked entry under the headline ‘Why some banks are congested’ I pointed out that the cumbersome paperwork demanded for most transactions in our banks was a major contributing factor to the congestion.
Most commercial banks demanded customers to fill deposit slips in duplicate yet they hardly provided carbon papers for the duplication. That time, I commended, Nedbank Malawi, Ecobank Malawi and the now defunct Indebank Limited for leading the way in providing carbonless copy paper or non-carbon copy paper that transferred information written on the front onto sheets beneath.
My argument then was that by demanding at least two copies of deposit slips, for instance, and not providing carbon papers for duplicating, customers were wasting valuable time doing the same thing more than once. This saw customers staying in banking halls for long.
Following that series of articles advocating for change, National Bank of Malawi plc, NBS Bank plc and Standard Bank plc, among others, positively responded by introducing the carbonless copy paper.
In case of National Bank, it went a step further to do away with filling of deposit slips for cash deposits of less than K100 000 and now K1 million. However, the problem I noted with this arrangement was that it was still cumbersome for customers to jot down account details and other information demanded; hence, still taking up customers’ precious time and congesting the banking halls.
In mid-June or thereabouts, I was pleasantly surprised when a teller at Standard Bank’s Ginnery Corner service centre Drive-In counter returned my withdrawal slip, saying it was no longer necessary. The bank had gone paperless!
From that time, I have noted that Standard Bank banking halls are less congested even during end of month dates when many employed account holders get their salaries. Both for cash deposits and withdrawals, Standard Bank is only demanding from a customer an account number which is orally presented to the bank teller. In turn, in case of cash withdrawals, the teller instantly sends via text message a one-time-pin (OTP) which the customer reads out to the teller or shows the same from their mobile phone. Now, this is what I call innovation.
Standard Bank has also introduced deposit-taking automated teller machines (ATMs). That is yet another innovation. The bank may not be the first, though, as I recall the now defunct Malawi Savings Bank, which was wholly-owned by the Malawi Government, had a similar innovation sometime back.
Besides the paperless transactions, commercial banks should be commended for embracing mobile banking technology that has also reduced visits to banking halls. With Internet or mobile banking, today, many are able to transfer funds, pay rent, pay bills or subscription at anytime from any corner of the world.
FDH Bank and FMB also deserve special mention for the innovation that allows non-account holders to encash at their ATMs without use of cards. Under the arrangement, one simply punches in the unique OTP and, voila! You get the cash sent to you.
With Ecobank Malawi, you do not have to walk into the banking hall to open an account. You do it yourself on your mobile phone after downloading an app. I know several other banks, including NBS Bank, are also introducing a similar arrangement. That is the way to go.
But, while information and communications technology (ICT) seems to be here to simplify banking, there still exist some bad apples resistant to change. Here I have in mind some retail merchants who are resistant to technology such that they frustrate use of electronic payments through Visa or Natswitch point-of-sale devices. Such merchants give lame excuses such as no network or the machine is down.
Whatever the case, ICT is here to stay and it will keep improving. It is time as a country we embraced ICT and in particular electronic payments. They are safer and convenient.
For now, I say well done our commercial banks for embracing innovations that seek to decongest banking halls.