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By Lisa Mwambwa – ZamChro Chief Business Strategist

Not too long ago I returned home after an extended absence. Filled with nerves I boarded by plain from Oliver Tambo International airport and took my seat literally shaking with excitement about seeing what the buzz in the international media was all about. 6% growth, The New York Times had said while others had capped it at 7%. And I thought to myself “6% wow!”

 

When I left years ago, ATMs were just being introduced and many of us thought it was stuff for the movies. So by the time I was returning, I was not expecting to have any difficulties with accessing funds using an ATM and this was largely the case except for the long lines. It was on one of my dashes to the ATM at Manda hill that I happened upon Michael Sata fondly known as King Cobra among his supporters. “What is this?” I heard a voice croak behind me and lo and behold there was the Cobra in his Madiba shirt. “You people should not be waiting in line. You should tell your government to fix this.” The spectacle continued for a while with the former Minister clearly enjoying the ooos and ahhs from the crowd. After a few minutes and the former Mayor of Lusaka went off in the direction of Game Stores.

 

Sata was right. We should not have to cue at ATMs. The whole idea behind ATMs is faster, more convenient service. This also takes the pressure off bank personnel and allows them to focus on such matters and the loan you are eyeing for that 4 bedroom house, with a two car garage and a gated fence in Kabulonga or some other place that like.

 

What struck me on this particular occasion is how true the statement “a leopard does not change its spots” is. If my memory serves me right (which is usually does) Sata was in government when Automated Teller Machines were introduced, did it not occur to the man to advocate for more ATMs? Did he have to wait until he was unceremoniously chucked out of government to advocate for the masses?

 

In this writers’ humble opinion it maybe quite possible that banks do not deem it profitable to increase the number of ATMs per square mile. Banks are in the business of making money and if more ATMs would bring in more cash, it is safe to assume they would have more of the “robo tellers” around.

 

Perhaps Sata should have focused on developing Zambia’s economy when he had the chance, which in return would have increased the Gross Domestic Product, Total National Income, Total Personal Income, the Per Capita Income and any of those incomes Politicians and Economists love so much. Meaning more investments (not just in the banking sector) and as a result more ATMs because with increased income even my grandmother in Shang’ombo would have an account and the banks would make ATMs available even in the remotest places because they are banks and that’s what they do. They follow the money.

 

Sata’s rant aside, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the growth in the banking sector specifically by Barclays bank. Now here is one area where one can actually see the 6% extolled by the New York Post and others. While I recall only about 3-4 Barclays bank locations in Lusaka, now they are everywhere. Kamwala, Matero, Mutendere Chilenje, name it, they are there. Kind a like Mickey Dees. But more on Barclays in a bit.

 

Prior to my departure I decided to find a bank that offered Internet banking and what do you know ZANACO was it. A point for the home team. But that was pretty much as far as the good news went. Half the time the site is down and I have never accessed my account online meanwhile I had signed up for e-statements.

 

In addition to Internet banking, I was told I would have a debit card within two weeks, that was five months ago and I am still waiting. What is more, every time I went into the bank to withdraw money I was charged even when I told them I had applied for a card. As for the reason for the unwarranted delay, I was told ZANACO is issuing new cards, understandable but five months! Very stone age and don’t even get me started on the customer service at ZANACO.

 

And that is how I came to find myself at Barclays; I was issued a card instantly. (In your face ZANACO) That said, even Barclays ATMs are plagued with long lines (can’t have it all right?) But this is not what ticked me off. Instead it was the poor customer service and the luck of Internet banking that had me considering other banks.

 

With Internet banking, I can easily transfer funds from England to Europe and America at the click of a mouse but I cannot access my Zambian Barclays account online. No what is wrong with this picture? Completely unacceptable in this day and age, especially when the service is being offered by the same bank in hundreds of other banks around the world. I could easily avoid those mean faced, know-no-smile, condescending tellers at the downtown Barclays bank at the click of a mouse.  So Barclays Zambia, how about catching up with the rest of the civilized world and introducing Internet banking? We live in the digital age for crying out loud.

 

I wish that were the end of my dissatisfaction with Barclays but no such luck. Not too long after that, I wanted to transfer money from one Barclays account to another in two countries, I was told I needed to fill out a form authorizing the transfer which I happily requested only to be told the bank had no way of getting the form to me. WHAT THE!? Anyway, to cut a long story short, I had to arrange for someone to go to the bank, collect the form (since the bank had no electronic copy) scan it and email it to me.

 

I would then complete it and send it back to Barclays Zambia. Ok I can do that. But perhaps the worst was the bank manager at this particular branch who made it clear while the bank had access to e-mail and fax, it would not make those services available to a client. I was welcome to send the form back to the bank by fax for processing once completed. I had it to give him a piece of my mind but I figured every dog had its day but in my opinion dear reader is inefficiency at its worst.

 

Zambians are generally nice people, easy to get along with and will smile and say hi even if they don’t know you. I am often told by my foreign friends and of course the travel books how nice Zambians are but somehow that has failed to translate to formal situations. Whether you are ordering pizza or opening an account often you are greeted with a steel face that seems to say “what the hell do you want.” We seem to lose our common sense, kindness and generosity to others, which is so sad because small as it may seem, it takes away from who we are as a people.

 

In closing, there has been significant growth in the Country’s banking sector. Services such as home and personal loans are now in the offing to the masses not just the elite few. And let’s not forget all the jobs generated by the growth undoubtedly courtesy of the late President. Yes we lag behind but we are on our way to better things.

 

© Zambian Chronicle 2009. All rights reserved.

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