Banks and Vultures

17 January 2013
Author   J.W. ASHEEKE

PEOPLE used to make nasty jokes about lawyers equating them to ghouls and lower life forms. I think banks and bankers can be inserted into those jokes, replacing lawyers. “What is the difference between a ‘banker’ and a vulture? One is a scheming, carrion-eating, manipulating, sneaky, distasteful, threatening, back-stabbing beast; the other is a bird.”


I read the Letters to the Editor and SMS pages regularly and statements are made often about banks and their ill-treatment of customers. And, I have my own personal experiences with banks that confirm my point. Just like hemorrhoids, banks and their fees seem to always cause pain and discomfort, particularly when you sit down.

The banks in Namibia are largely foreign entities, responding to their South African headquarters’ dictates and NOT the needs and priorities of the Namibian public. In fact, they care so little about what we think or believe that even their advertisements and specials are for South Africans only. I was in a local bank recently and saw a placard using South African languages and referring to South African ethnic groups and speaking of a savings plan with the small print stating that the offer was available in ‘South Africa only’. So what was that mess doing in our NAMIBIAN banks?

We know we are a small market here in Namibia. But, if you read those earnings reports listed in the newspapers from each of those South African-based banks, you can see clearly the BILLIONS they earn here in this so-called, ‘small’ market country called Namibia.

Standard Bank doesn’t mince words; they have had a South African in charge of the Namibian operations for years. We are just the ‘help’ paying their profit margins; we cannot be trusted to run Standard Bank South Africa’s business properly at the top. Well, I guess that is at least honest (atypical for a bank); I’d rather get slapped in the face than slapped upside the back of my head.

I am angry about the fees these banks charge. This is just too much. I am awaiting the electricity fee for the use of the elevators when we go to the various offices; the water fee for when we use the toilet after waiting in long lines for service; the cleaning fee, for mopping the floors of the banks as we go in and out with our dirty shoes and the ‘be thankful’ charge which is a fee we would have to pay as their ‘tip’ for even bothering to provide banking services in Namibia (South Africans would be exempt from this fee, of course.)

Here is an example of Standard Bank’s exquisitely refined rip-off skills: Civil servants have their checks deposited into their accounts on the last day of each month. So what does the bank do? They credit all house bonds, car payments, interest and insurance on that same last day, but, BEFORE they credit the salary payment! They could choose to push a computer button and do it the other way around, but they don’t. This makes our account overdrawn for a few seconds in the middle of the night, for which they can charge an honouring fee for each time they put through a debit order when the account had insufficient funds. They have hit us for anywhere from N$85 to N$300! When we shout, they apologize and reverse the charges; but why must we shout? Why is the default setting in banks: Rip-off?

They may as well take a gun out and rob us at the teller window. Close your eyes and imagine that scene: you walk into a bank and each teller has a loaded pistol. They point it at you and order you to step up and do your normal banking. Years ago, the bank used to help clients manage their finances. They would look at our balances and our income vs debits and give advice. They would suggest investments and explain each option. They would look at multiple insurance policies and other monthly payments that could be consolidated so that you could pay less in interest. Now, I bet they have secret bounties given to the banker who rips-off the most money from clients each quarter.

I thought gang-bangers were only in my old ‘hood in the States. Now I know they are here in these banks operating in Namibia. I am waiting for a drive-by shooting at our house with the bank CEO, our bank manager, and the auto loans and home loans managers, hanging out of the windows of a car with AK-47s while T-Pain rap music blasts through the airways.

I saw in the newspaper that banks had a legally enforced deadline to offer low fee accounts. These banks know very well about the Gini-coefficient in Namibia and our poverty and unemployment levels. Many of our people need to enter the formal banking system, but cannot afford the inconvenient locations, fees and charges involved. D’you think these banks care? Not on a bet.

In fact, a couple of the vultures…ohh, I mean… banks, waited until just before the deadline before they sheepishly and begrudgingly ‘announced’ their low fee accounts. Do you think they will do road shows, monthly radio adverts in different languages, incentive campaigns to recruit new accounts or go into rural areas through churches and civil organizations and sign people up? Don’t hold your breath.

Their task masters in South Africa have no intentions of letting too many people know about this wonderful banking option because it will cut into those huge profits that they carry out of Namibia in electronic sacks.

It’s bad enough that they steal wantonly from clients with fees, they don’t deliver service! I constantly read about rural areas where people drive distances to queue up at two ATMs and one breaks halfway through the day on the first of every month. I see the long lines at almost every bank window in the city at the end of the month. Machines run out of cash, tsotsis hang around ATMs with unmotivated, under-paid, rent-a-cops supposedly guarding the clients as they withdraw their desperately needed cash. I read constantly of people who apply for loans and hear nothing for months! One bank even double charged all debit orders for the month of January! My bank deducted monthly stop orders for municipal payments for three months from our account but failed to pay that money over to the City. Result: my water was turned off! Of course when I stormed into that office ready to kick butt, I got apologies and all the payments were made. But, why should it come to that?

My bank (Standard) has a ‘supposedly’ Executive Suite that is closed on Saturdays and has no cash withdrawal or deposit facility in that ‘exclusive area.’ In this Internet world, Standard Bank credit cards are still unavailable through Internet banking (you have to ask your banker to tell you your balance!).

The worst thing is that they only help you as much as you help yourself. If you don’t know the right question to ask, they certainly won’t help. I have to read up on any banking issue BEFORE I go there, so that I can spot the double-talk dialogue or ‘fine print’ in anything they tell me. Going there is like participating in a bad game show where the contestant must guess the question that will be asked. I would switch banks, but I am not sure that it makes any difference given the nightmare stories I have heard about other banks too.

Bank clients in Namibia need to get non-violently ugly. Let’s demand better service and lower fees! Banks/vultures: you have been put on notice! Go tell your owners in South Africa that Namibians are lions, not sheep! Grrrrrrr….


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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