Friday 29 September 2006

They don’t want my money!

Last week I promised to give feedback on some mystery shopping we did with the main banks. This was inspired by a comment made by Iqbal Ebrahim, the President of BOCCIM, who suggested that if Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and now the richest man in the world, had arrived in Botswana 30 years ago he almost certainly would have been turned away at the border as someone unlikely to contribute towards our economy.

This prompted me to see how a potential investor would be treated in 2006.

So I decided to phone round the banks pretending to be a foreigner planning to arrive in Botswana the following week and who just wanted to open a personal account to start with. Oh yes, arriving with over a million Pula to open the account.

I set some basic rules before calling. To begin with I wasn’t prepared to be kept on hold for more than 3 minutes. Any more than that and I would hang up. I would tell the banks that I had whatever proof of identify they might require and I would only be seeking a personal account at this stage, business accounts could come later. My basic need was for a personal account that I could use to live while I set up the business, filled in endless forms and acquired permits.

So how do you think I did? Was I treated with courtesy, with interest and with an overwhelming effort to get my money into one of their accounts?


To begin with two of the big four banks couldn’t even put me through to someone who could help me in the time I allowed. With one bank I was on hold for a total of 5½ minutes. Yes, I know I said I would limit it to 3 minutes but I’m a big softy and wanted to give them a chance. I confess I did phone them around 4pm so maybe I should expect less? Perhaps they were all tired after a long day of ignoring the phone and losing business?

With the third bank (still no names mentioned) I had a long conversation about the requirements for opening an account. To begin with they did quite well but it didn’t last long. It seems that until I get both work and residence permits I can’t have an account. Strangely they were the only bank that demanded this so it can’t be a legal requirement. Actually the law makes no reference to permits so it must be a particular requirement at that bank. Only uncomplicated customers there please!

With the last bank I had a long discussion about how they wouldn’t accept my fictitious money transfer from the UK unless I gave them “confirmation of where the money is coming from”. No, not a letter saying that it wasn’t the proceeds of drug deals or terrorist funding. Just a letter saying which account it was coming from. My argument that they would see from the transfer where it came from wasn’t good enough. However they did redeem themselves slightly at the end by suggesting that if I visited one of their senior managers they could probably do something for me which is perhaps a reasonable recovery. Internal rules are fine but there are often times when these rules need to be bent slightly.

Trouble it’s still not quite good enough. Not one of the banks gave me even a hint that they wanted me as a customer.

Let me say again what I said last week. I have absolutely no problem with a bank having to confirm my identity, my address and whether I have any money. In these days of terrorism, international crime and money-laundering that’s only reasonable. I wouldn’t want to lend my money to a careless bank. I would however like to lend it to a bank that gave some impression that MY money was of value to them.

The funniest bit was when I was on hold with one bank. They played a message warning me that for training purposes my call might be recorded. It most certainly was. By me!

Why must it be so difficult? Why do our banks, one of the key industries contributing towards our national development, actually seem to impede business rather than support it? Remember that this wasn’t a test of the way the banks deal with ordinary folk like you and me, it was a test of how they deal with an investor. Someone with loads of money that he wanted to invest in OUR economy. Someone we should be treating like a donor.

How might our fictitious visitor and potential investor feel right now? I imagine justifiably irritated and despairing of whether he would ever be able to open an account. Probably also wondering about whether he could do business here at all. Whether we like it or not and regardless how xenophobic we might feel some times a successful country attracts money from outsiders as well as insiders. People who think the country will be a successful investment.

So why do some of us do our best to make it look like it’s not?

This week’s stars!

  • Victor at Barclays Mall Branch, Business section is apparently “a service champion”. Our reader says that he is “every customers dream, courteous, competent, consistent and extremely helpful”.
  • The anonymous bank official, from a bank that cannot be named, who seemed to realise that their procedures were too rigid and suggested that I take it higher up the line to a manager for review. She knew her limitations and was prepared to escalate!

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