Given outrageous deposit targets with deadlines capable of breaking even the jaw of an hyena, bank workers saddled with the responsibility of marketing and wooing ‘big’ customers are mostly compelled to pound the streets of Nigeria for hours, struggling desperately to meet up with the lofty expectations of their bosses.
While this craze has driven many to adopt unconventional and unhealthy strategies to meet up with these ‘insane’ tasks, others unable to sometimes hit these targets, live with the humiliation until Armageddon finally strikes.
On July 29, 2016, Nigerians woke up to the news of a bank manager, Olisa Nwakoby, taking his own life. According to reports, the 44-year-old shot himself in the head after pressure from his employers became unbearable over a N350m loan he approved which had gone bad. Unwilling to face the humiliation that may soon follow, Nwakoby took a painful option – suicide. The latest incident had shed light into what many in the sector, especially those in the lower cadre, pass through on daily basis.
“You could run mad if God is not on your side with the pressure and humiliation you are subjected to when you are not meeting your targets,” Frank Anunobi, a former bank worker told Saturday PUNCH. “The situation is worse for those ones in the marketing department whose main job is to attract good customers and bring in good money. I was once there, so I know what it feels like. For the three years I worked as a marketer for a bank, I was like a slave, always begging one customer or the other just for them to bring their cash to our bank so that I could at least keep my job. I became so desperate at a time that I approached my pastor for him to move the entire church account to our branch. The man told me at the end of my presentation to him that if not for the fact that he had known me for a while, he would have called the police on me because I sounded too desperate and could play pranks with their money even if they decided to patronise us. The shame didn’t make me attend church for two weeks. Eventually I lost that job and for me even though there was no alternative at the time, I felt so relieved, free from the pressure that was almost consuming me,” he said.
For the two years she worked with a bank in Abuja, Hadiza Raman, moved from being a superstar to being surplus to requirement in the eyes of her employer. Raking in impressive figures week after week, it didn’t take long for her to be rewarded with promotion and several other benefits. It was the dream start to a career she had long sought.
But several months after that period, the 30-year-old is still trying to find her balance after being thrown out of her job for failing to meet expectations over a period of time. She told our correspondent during a telephone conversation earlier in the week that her life was reduced to a living hell for the better part of the last one year she spent at the bank.
“There was no day that I wasn’t harassed and humiliated by the head of my department and even branch manager for not meeting up with targets given to me,” she said. “It became so bad that I gradually lost my mind and self worth as a result of the situation. I couldn’t sleep very well at night, the sight of dawn brought instant sadness to my mind. How could I have met a target of N900m in four months, where was I going to see that kind of money? It was as if I was in bondage, living my life just for the next huge deposit I could attract to the bank. It was crazy. I was eventually fired after I fell sick and was at home for almost two weeks. I had to send all the bank’s items in my possession through a friend while the letter was posted to my house. I couldn’t go there to face the humiliation. It is an experience I will never forget easily,” she said.
Edet Umana got a taste of what Nigeria’s financial sector looks like recently when he was finally shortlisted for a job in one of the banks. As part of the screening process, he and other ‘lucky’ candidates had to write about three tests and when they were one step away from oral interview, they were given a form to fill and one of the clauses was that they must bring two customers each to deposit at least N30m with the bank before the job could be given to them. The initial excitement that the 24-year-old Akwa Ibom native had fizzled out immediately at that very moment.
“On seeing the clause on the form given to us, I became sad instantly knowing that there was nowhere I could get that kind of money. I lost that job even before I ever started because of such crazy target.
“Well, I am happy I never even got that job because only God knows what my life would have become now. Many of my friends who work in the bank are not better than me even though I am just managing a small business at the moment. I have peace of mind, they don’t. Each time we speak they tell me how they can’t wait to leave the bank as a result of struggling here and there to meet up with huge targets. They don’t have time for themselves; the system has taken over their lives. I really pity them,” he said.
Apart from the outrageous deposit targets set before them, most bank workers are equally made to contend with all sorts of dehumanising treatment from superiors in cases where customers they brought to collect loans fail to service such and meet up with deadline for repayment. When such happens, the employee, as a result of the immense pressure piled on them to recover such funds is reduced to a moving carcass.
“The bank is a cold place to be when your loan goes bad,” Stephen Oni, a financial analyst told Saturday PUNCH. “They deny you and start treating you like a leper. You are immediately thrown into the grinder and asked to go recover. In some extreme cases, your salary is stopped and you are out on working suspension until you recover. The madness in all of this is the fact that you are being given the same pressure to give out the loan, so for most bankers it is a no win situation. If you do not give the loans, you are in trouble and if you give and it goes bad, you are on your own.
“But I think all stakeholders must jointly share the blame including regulators, banks and risk management officers, rather than leaving the members of staff that brought in the customer to bear the brunt. The account officer’s role must be limited to just the initial introduction and continuous relationship management. He must be assured that the system has the capacity to objectively appraise a loan request, assess the risks inherent in advance and come up with a solution.
“The legal system must also be primed to protect the rights of the individuals who are subjected to this level of arbitrariness showing them a clear road to seeking not only cover but justice. If we do not act now to protect these guys, we could be seeing more of cases like Nwakoby’s, the bank manager who recently killed himself over a bad loan. We may just begin to see a trend where workers in these financial institutions take their own lives in trying to escape the humiliation they had been subjected to,” he said.
According to findings by Saturday PUNCH, most of the huge deposits banks compel their employees to bring in by any means are almost immediately issued out as loans to businessmen and women who are able to provide the requisite collateral. It is the difference in the rate of taking and the interest charged on loans that excite the banks.
But in spite of all the pressure they are made to pass through and the humiliation they are subjected to in the process of meeting these bogus targets, many of the bankers in this category have nothing significant to show for their efforts. In fact the workers are not allowed to belong to labour unions – a gross violation of the International Labour Organisation treaty which Nigeria is a signatory.
At the moment the sector employs around 60,000 permanent staff while another 100,000, operate as temporary or contract staff. But apart from earning between N50, 000 to N80,000 each month for the volume of work they put in, those in the latter category never get any reasonable bonuses, allowances and even promotions at the end of the day.
The fortunes of those in the first category who are permanent staff is not too enviable, apart from earning slightly higher wages and given fair bonuses, only around 20 per cent of the lot earn good salaries and are actually immune to the ill treatment prevalent in the industry.
President, National Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions, Comrade Sunday Salako, blames the unfair treatment of workers in the banking sector, particularly junior staff, on the paucity of jobs despite the growing army of graduates in the country.
According to him, the situation has made banks resort to cheap labour by ignoring university graduates and Higher National Diploma certificate holders to employ Ordinary National Diploma holders who they pay peanuts.
Human rights advocate, Mariam Odega, told Saturday PUNCH that most of the practices in the Nigerian banking sector are not only against the rights of the employees but also against the dictates of any modern society.
“A target is generally believed to be against the International Labour Organisation’s position on Decent Work Agenda. This disturbing phenomenon has increased concerns about the unwholesome labour practices that take place in our banks.
“I believe it is immoral, illegal and absolutely unacceptable to give workers outrageous targets. It is against the conventions of the ILO,” she said.