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Nigerian Bankers And The Times


By Uche Nworah (uchenworah@yahoo.com)
 

Published  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.

 

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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 Ogas.

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.
 

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