Most banks’ federations or associations worldwide have, as principal objectives, a code of conduct for banks (largely involving ethics, disclosure, customer education & protection, transparency, prompt, fair dispute resolution etc.). Most also cast a protective eye on customers, engaging with the community in creating awareness with regard to rights & responsibilities, education on improvement of bankability, etc.; and cardinally, especially in loosely regulated markets, the creation of a robust banking ombudsman.
The UBF’s customer charter has a laudable list of obligations incumbent upon banks and their clients to follow. However, it has done little.
It is beyond the pale of the UBF to monitor or appraise banks but it can certainly use other tools to ensure that high standards (of all the attributes expected of banks) are maintained and constantly improved. Self-regulation is one thing, but a public watchdog always improves institutional behaviour, irrespective of the nature of the industry. Having worked in banks for a long time and then dealing with them whilst representing customers, we have experienced widely varying cultures at banks, resulting in vastly different levels of customer service.
Hence the need for a more activist approach in proffering robust non-regulatory oversight, over the conduct of banks. Here a few suggestions on what the UBF needs to take up on a priority basis;
- a) create a banking ombudsman;
- b) address customer service levels and
- c) initiate customer education / awareness programmes.
A banking ombudsman is commonly present in both developed and emerging markets with a view to abetting the creation of a fair banking sector. It is a neutral, credible and independent party that provides free investigation and dispute resolution services to anyone who wants a complaint against a member bank addressed, after failing to elicit a satisfactory response/outcome from the bank. An ombudsman also proffers the following services: provides advice to customers (corporate and individual) and banks; remedies things when they go wrong; communicate the latent causes of complaints/disputes to all banks, enabling them to make elemental changes to policies and processes to fix the source of these issues; and last but not the least, work towards creating more trust in the banking system.
The second suggestion is to play a more proactive role in improving customer service levels. This differs from the role of the ombudsman, in that the latters’ part is more reactive. The UBF can galvanise banks into working harder at improving client satisfaction by independently surveying their service levels and ranking banks, publicly. It can rate banks and publish findings of surveys on customer satisfaction, on various fronts – service levels, value propositions, range of services, etc. Gathering such information and disseminating it widely will force banks to sit up, take notice and improve.
My last suggestion is to address the customers’ side. One must be fair to banks too, by educating customers not only on their rights, but also on their responsibilities, which will in turn contribute to more enlightened client behaviour, reducing the probability of disputes, misunderstandings and so on. Some important subjects: common KYC requirements and what infractions could imply; security and fraud; the importance of basics like examining and understanding bank agreements and forms; the understanding and comparison of bank tariffs; online banking risks and so on.