Republic Bank

In recent weeks Republic Bank Limited (RBL) has been trying to introduce a new online banking platform, causing an enormous amount of frustration, but eventually I was quite comfortable with the prevailing platforms.

I found Republic’s original arrangement easy to use and it saved me many trips to the bank. I am now confronted by a new system that I find complex, confusing and almost impossible to use.

If the aim is to encourage more people to do their banking online, this is not the way to go. I am not against innovation, but the process of change must be orderly and without costly disruption.

It took me more than five days to access my account after exchanging numerous e-mails with, and making countless telephone calls to, the bank. I am tempted to say with a robot. It was an agonising experience.

When your time is unnecessarily being wasted and your nerves are getting raw, apologies do not count. Having got into the system, I found myself unable to do any banking activity. Unable to make a credit card payment or load my VTM card, I decided to go and line up outside the bank in the sun, and wait my turn to get inside.

The officials were sympathetic. More pressure has been placed on the reduced number of persons now operating the various branches.

While making a string of apologies, the bank is at the same time boasting about the great features one can expect from the new platform. I am told the bank is still trying to resolve the glitches in the system.

My view is Republic did not lay the groundwork to get it right. I have a lot of regard for this bank, and find it difficult to understand the level of incompetence that has accompanied this roll-out. I feel embarrassed for this institution, which does not seem to appreciate the hardships it has caused and continues to cause, all because it did not follow some basic rules of innovation.

Online banking technology is not new. It is being used all over the world. Even here in Trinidad and Tobago, there are banks that operate user-friendly and secure banking networks.

The people at Republic have a lot of questions to answer. Why, for instance, would they chose the middle of a pandemic to roll out an untested system, when the bank is not functioning at full capacity? Why didn’t they prepare their customer base for the changes envisaged? Why didn’t they give their staff some more training?

With this new platform, even if you are using your computer at home to do your banking, you need to have access to a cellphone to receive an SMS code every time you log in. This is not only a nuisance—it also involves a cost. The phone company would be happy with this new feature.

The slightest mistake in logging in leads to a lock-out. The videos that were produced to help customers have the mark of amateurs, and were a waste of time and money.

Instead, a user-friendly manual mailed to customers or published in the newspapers would have been more helpful. This would also have helped the people working in the various branches, whose understanding of the new system seems to be less than mine.

In response to request for help, they hand out phone numbers to call—but you are lucky if anybody answers.

In this country people of all walks of life tolerate abuse in silence. This abuse by institutions in both the public and private sectors has been increasing with impunity.

Whom do you really complain to, given the range of dysfunctional institutions with which we have to contend, and the prevailing level of insensitivity which elevates incompetence to unprecedented levels?

We have persons heading countless entities—but being head of something does not make you a leader. The concept of leadership connotes an ability to inspire and motivate.

On critical issues the Central Bank, which functions on a statute more than 50 years old, remains silent in the absence of any clear guidelines or regulations governing the relations between the public and financial institutions. Seeking refuge behind the claims of free markets in a situation where the players are unequal is dangerous nonsense. There is need for a bill of rights to provide some protection.

We have a situation now where people claim they are unable to withdraw foreign currency deposited with certain banks. If every foreign currency liability is supposed to have a foreign currency asset to back it up, what has happened to these assets?

The banks claim they have no foreign currency. So, what have they done with the people’s money? Are we for real? The factors that negatively impact saving behaviour have been created by the regulators and the financial institutions themselves which seem to have no respect for standard banking practice. Regulations and institutional behaviour have development consequences.

Prof Ramesh Ramsaran

St Augustine

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