Nigerian Bankers And The Times
By Uche Nworah (firstname.lastname@example.org)
October 21st, 2009
Long before the Sanusi era,
Banking used to be one of the most sought-after professions in Nigeria. Some may
argue that it probably still is. The reason for the former may not be
far-fetched. The average graduate fresh from the compulsory one-year national
youth service scheme dreams of landing a job in a bank. You can not really blame
them because no other sector gave young people such opportunities and rewarded
them highly like the banks did. The banks have been at the forefront of reducing
youth unemployment in Nigeria long before the telecommunications sector
bullishly berthed on the scene. But still, not even the telecommunications
sector, or the Oil and Gas sector could match the recruitment strength of the
banks who were always in need of marketing staff, men and women who were quite
ready to climb any mountain in their quest for deposit mobilisation.
The increased demand for fresh talent may also be as a result of the high job
mobility in the sector, and the post-consolidation expansion strategy that many
of the banks embarked on. Some of the banks claimed that they had to spread
their branch network to access the under-banked population, but for many others,
the glistening gigantic buildings they were erecting across major city centres
may just be nothing else but vanity projects, erected to achieve the “My bank is
bigger than yours” philosophy of many of the banks. In the end, this contributed
to the financial recklessness that plagued the sector as many of such branches
were actually loss making. Because bank branches are structured as cost and
profit centres, the huge cost of running these branches meant that most branch
managers always struggled to declare profits as every profit made is almost
immediately swallowed by running costs.
The banks exploited the ‘big bank’ image in their marketing communications
materials, just before the bubble burst, you could hardly see any bank ad that
does not declare such a bank as the biggest bank in Nigeria, each claim backed
by one or many of the awards that the bank had received from different awarding
organisations locally and from abroad.
Now that Sanusi is wielding the big stick, how sad to see yesterday’s banking
big boys and girls looking towards the sky for some indication of what tomorrow
holds. On a regular basis in the dailies, speculations are rife about looming
mass sack in the banking halls. Some banks have already started the process of
disengaging their surplus staff using different performance indices to determine
who stays and who goes. Sadly, some of the great shinning stars of banking, the
super marketing staff are also affected.
Why? Deposits have since dried up, depositors confidence very low and the huge
deposits they were able to attract in the good old days have since disappeared
through the back door into the uncertain risky terrain of insider ‘carry go’
loans and executive financial recklessness. What a reward, and what a way to pay
bank staff back for their sacrifices in helping to build the affected banks
through an aggressive regime of marketing and deposit mobilisation. Not even a
golden handshake to say the least, but a short cold note to visit HR. a most
dreaded memo in the sector currently.
Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt here by all. Back in the good old days,
while the going was good, Bankers cruised around town in brand new Prado SUVs,
Toyota and Honda salon cars. Lady bankers dressed to attract deposits in
designer wardrobes to die for, with matching accessories, oversized hand bags
and shoes with hills that can injure. The men strutted around town dressed like
GQ fashion models; they burnt cash in the best restaurants and night clubs with
their wives and girlfriends in tow. Life was good. During this time, savings
took a back seat, everybody was living for the moment, many were neck deep in
all kinds of loans; margin, mortgage, auto, furniture, education, holidays etc.
In retrospect, perhaps a moderate lifestyle may have helped cushion the
impending job loss for some.
Are we all going to learn our lessons? Will banking go back to the conservative
profession that it should be? Will bankers who survive the chop be able to take
show out of the banking business? Only time will tell.
And for the new kids on the block, the newly appointed MDs and EDs, this is
hoping that they will not go down the widely travelled road. No more $10,000
suits, away with the long Mercedes G Wagon convoys, afterall, we are all now
witnessing what happens to people that mess with other people’s money. I am not
forgetting the unrealistic targets that have driven many female bankers to
corporate prostitution. Will all these change now?
There must be things we can learn from banks operating in Europe and America
from where we imported the concept of banking. Unlike what obtains in our clime,
banks are run as institutions and the banks go on to outlive the founders;
People working in traditional high street banks have no business worrying about
what the MD will do or say any day he or she has a bad day. They simply go to
work, put in an honest hardworking shift and go back home to their families.
Unlike the boiler pressure room situation obtainable in Nigerian banks, a
situation that has created a lot of in-fighting, ‘bad belleism’ and favouritism
which has pitched many a bank staff against another as they seek to impress the
I wish I can find a better advice for bankers who may be affected one way or the
other in the current right sizing drive except to say that one should now learn
to cut his or her coat according to one’s clothes, as against one’s size as my
neighbour Ngozi, a female banker will say. There is no longer any such thing as
job for life, not in banking or in any other sector, globalisation has changed
all that. Especially in this global financial meltdown and Sanusi era where
recent events have shown that it is no longer business as usual. Life will never
be the same again; for the bankers, the bank owners and their customers.
Nworah was formerly a banker.