Ghana Commercial Bank The Elephant In The Living Room

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 Source: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

‘We serve you better’ goes the motto of Ghana Commercial Bank. I was struck with amazement when I came across it during my research for this article. I didn’t know what to make of it whether to fume, cry or laugh, because it bore no resemblance to my experience at one of their branches when I was in Ghana a couple of months ago. In the end I was filled with nostalgia, reminiscent of the fever that most students contract in their first year at secondary school, which gives birth to weird nicknames based on how beautiful it sounds or rhymes. I felt it was a complete joke and should have read ‘we serve you better when we feel like.’

I have been operating a savings account with GCB since the year 2000. My dealings with them have always been through telephone and written correspondence courtesy of the branch manager. So this past summer was the first time, in nine years, that I dealt with them in person. I went to my branch to cash my own cheque after collecting the chequebook from the reception desk. As a valued customer I could have gone to the manager and had it cashed quickly. However, I felt that I was not above anybody so I went to queue as everyone else. I stood in the queue for twenty minutes and all that while not a single customer was served. It was only two tellers I could see, which was not a problem. But to add insult unto injuries every now and then I could see them chatting while the counter was teaming with anxious customers. With my two-year-old daughter playing incredible tantrum I had no option than to go and see the manager to get her to expedite their service, which I regret. Nevertheless, within a few minutes that I opted for that course of action I was out of the bank.

As I made myself comfortable in my chauffeur driven car I began thinking about what happened and I felt extremely sorry for those ordinary customers waiting hopelessly for their turn. What I experienced did not hit home until I came back to England and I was narrating my experience to a friend. The responds was startling. He told me, ‘Philip! how can you of all people be banking with Ghana Commercial Bank.’ From our discussion I found out that he had never banked with GCB and yet could come to such an opinion about the biggest bank in the country I realise that there was something really rotten and I couldn’t take my mind of the unintended consequences it has on the national economy.

I write with a slight slant aimed at bringing the best out of every Ghanaian. However, I do not, in the least, claim any paragon of virtue. But I have to make this clear that most Ghanaians have an iron clad belief that our economic woes are due to the incompetence of our past successive governments. Though there is a lot of truth in that, on the other hand, I beg to differ slightly in the sense that a huge chunk of the problem is ourselves laid bare by companies like GCB, and many more who have become defunct like Ghana Airways, who make you feel that they are doing you a favour when you go to any of their branches.

It is the distinguished British economist Lionel Robbins who gave the most classic definition of economics, stating that it is the study of the use of scarce resources, which have alternative uses. And I state with a heavy heart that in my estimation I don’t think the top brass at GCB have any clue as to what this definition means. And I doubt whether they know that time is also a scarce resource likewise the human resource, the buildings and above all the capital at their disposal. The country’s economy is more or less engaged in an internecine struggle to survive. And I will assume that every facet of economic activity in the country will be geared towards that goal as far as our scarce resources are concerned. Yet, you find companies like GCB playing tiddlywinks with these resources. Of all the resources they are squandering the one that really gets my stomach churning is time. They don’t waste just theirs but that of their customers who happens to be at the lower pile of the food chain.

The proverbial time is money is a common cliché on many buses stores etc., all over the country and you wonder whether their optic nerve is severed. A better rendition of the maxim is the one made by the Greek orator Antiphon that: ‘the most costly outlay is time’. Let me put it in a practical perspective based on supposition. Assuming a medium size businessman who cannot afford an assistant has to go and do his banking at one of the GCB branches. His first port of call is to close his business for the period, not to talk about the time he will spend in traffic. Alternatively, he might have to synchronise his activities to coincide with his child’s free period to man the shop. So should he spend roughly an hour at the bank there will be a cost to the various alternatives, which I have limited it to only two here. There will be immediate lost of business for the period that the shop is closed and perhaps, in the future. In the second scenario the child will probably lose out at the playground or the homework to build him up academically for the future. These are all cost to the national economy, which are not quantified.

What the above paragraph outlines are the immediate cost to their customers. Let us now look at the general implication to the national economy. Standard Chartered, for instance, employs 750 people according to their 2008 annual report as to 2148 by GCB. The total assets of Standard Chartered were GH¢ 984,944,000 during the year under consideration compared to GH? 1,650,220,348 of GCB. From this total assets operated from 19 branches Standard Chartered was able to declare pre-tax profit of GH¢ 44,000,000 in contrast to GH¢ 49,713,392 generated from 148 branches by GCB. By simple elementary calculations the average output per every employee at Standard Chartered will be GH¢ 58,666.67 where as employees at GCB generated GH¢ 23,144.

From the above hotchpotch statistics it does not take the brains of Einstein to figure out which of these two institutions is better run. And it is important to note that these two companies operate in the same economic environment. Now reminding ourselves of Lionel Robbins famous definition it is obvious that GCB is not using scarce resources such as capital and labour efficiently. They are literally wasting national resources. Some will argue that they are private enterprise so what they do with their resources is their own business. And I will rebuttal to say that everything in the country is an asset to the national economy. Be it the rich man who provide job through his private assets and the poor man who provide his labour to bring about productivity. In the end when the GDP is measured no distinction is made between private and national assets. A bigger GDP comes better standard of living for every member of the society be it the rich or the poor. Through high productivity more taxes can be generated to pay for a modern police force to provide good security and better-paid teachers to teach our children well.

I wouldn’t leave this tirade without a suggestion. Though I know that the word privatisation is an anathema to a lot of Ghanaian intellectuals that is what I will shout from the rooftops. Most people think that GCB is a private enterprise but it is a de facto SOE. Because the government owns 21.36%and SSNIT which is a government organisation own 29.81% summing up to 51.17% of GCB’s operations. You therefore can see who calls the tune at the stockholders meeting. Ghana Commercial Bank should be fully privatised. For those who think privatisation is bad I will assure them that there is no better option. Privatisation is just like democracy, which Winston Churchill satirically defined as the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried. The only way we can get the best out of the nation’s resources we have invested into this company is a complete privatisation of the bank. It is when the management becomes answerable to irate stockholder, who will always demand their pound of flesh, that is when they will sit up to do the right thing. Finally, I will offer a little idea to the management. I don’t believe in a revolution; I believe in change by increment. If it takes half an hour to serve an average customer they can target 28 minutes in the next two months and perhaps 25minutes in the next six months and constantly keep searching for innovative ways of bringing that time down.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr London baidoo_philip@yahoo.co.uk

Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina