End the suffering and humiliation of citizens seeking bank transactions

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End the suffering and humiliation of citizens seeking bank transactions

Linton P Gordon

Monday, May 18, 2020

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The Government needs to move quickly and deal with the situation existing now at nearly every financial entity throughout Jamaica, but especially at the commercial banks and those entities offering remittance services where people have to collect funds. The banks in particular appear to have developed a cold, impersonal, and distant attitude towards their customers, some of whom have been supporting these institutions for over 50 years now.

We are now seeing a situation in which individuals commence “lining up” at the entrances to banks from as early as 6:30 in the morning. Long before the banks are opened these lines are seen stretching for long distances, along sidewalks, and in some instances extending to other premises. The banks are showing indifference to these difficulties being experienced by their customers.

One bank, the Bank of Nova Scotia, has sought to exculpate itself from responsibility for this situation by declaring in a recent letter to the press that it is the requirement to maintain distance between workers why the bank has reduced the number of persons tending to the public and are delayed in completing transactions. Nothing is mentioned about customers who have to stand in long lines out in the rain or sunshine. No indication was given in this letter as to what steps, if any, will be taken by the Bank of Nova Scotia towards reducing the suffering of its customers who are attending its branches trying to do transactions with this bank.

It should be borne in mind that the Bank of Jamaica has the responsibility for the supervision of commercial banks in Jamaica. Indeed Section 29 (1) of the Banking Act makes this absolutely clear, where it states as follows: “The Bank of Jamaica is responsible for the supervision of banks.”

Part of that responsibility to supervise banks imposes a duty on the Bank of Jamaica to authorise the Government to impose a duty on the Bank of Jamaica to submit to the minister of finance reports relating to the operation of banks, and in its report the Bank of Jamaica may include recommendations it considers necessary or desirable to correct any malpractice or deficiency seen in the operations of banks. This is clearly provided for in Section 29 of the Banking Act, and therefore we should call upon the Government, through the Bank of Jamaica, to intervene in this ugly, oppressive, and humiliating situation in which people are standing in line waiting to get into the bank and even end up fainting or having to be taken to the doctor or hospital.

Our country is facing an extremely difficult situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The banks, as corporate citizens, have been operating in this country well protected and supported by the Government and all citizens who do business with them. They have made billions of dollars of profit over the years. We are now in a serious crisis and there are a multiplicity of challenges facing citizens, especially senior citizens. The commercial banks, as part of their contribution and sacrifice in this time of difficulty, should be prepared to reorganise and streamline their operations and, if need be, re-employ some of the tellers they had got rid of in an effort to once again make their operation more customer-friendly, and to make interaction with them less strenuous and difficult for members of the public.

It is sad and totally unacceptable to see citizens, especially senior citizens, standing in long lines as they wait to gain access to their banks. Customers are now spending an average of three hours in lines at banks during working time, and there is no point in the banks telling us that their customer should now proceed to do online and Internet banking as some 40 per cent of our citizens do not have access to Internet. This situation, I submit, is a fit and proper basis for the governor of the Bank of Jamaica to summon the heads of the banks to a meeting and make it clear to them that he is not satisfied with the way their institutions are treating their customers.

The Government owes customers of the banks the duty of ensuring that the banks treat the citizens of Jamaica with dignity, respect and fair play. We should bring to an end the suffering and humiliation citizens are facing as they seek to gain access to their funds at our banks.

This is not too much and this should be no compromise.

Linton P Gordon is an attorney-at-law. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lpgordon@cwjamaica.com.

PUL QUOTE

Customers are now spending an average of three hours in lines at banks during working time, and there is no point in the banks telling us that their customer should now proceed to do online and Internet banking as some 40 per cent of our citizens do not have access to Internet. This situation, I submit, is a fit and proper basis for the governor of the Bank of Jamaica to summon the heads of the banks to a meeting and make it clear to them that he is not satisfied with the way their institutions are treating their customers


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