OPINION: HOW TO WRONGLY GO ABOUT IT!

Bank of Valletta’s Chief Retail Banking Officer,
Kenneth Farrugia,

The message by Bank of Valletta’s Chief Retail Banking Officer, Kenneth Farrugia, to his bank’s shareholders – as appearing in the Bank’s Shareholders’ Link magazine of May 2022, page 6 – is one which may satisfy those in his profession for persevering in their present approaches to the concept of “customer service”, but will certainly go no way towards assuring the general public out there, including many shareholders, that the Bank is conscious of their real needs, those that are of today and not of some future vision as seen in the glass-eyed perspectives of top executives.

The Bank may feel smug in its futuristic vision of an almost next-to-none situation of no more branches being retained in Malta’s towns and villages. Expressions like “delighting customers” and “customers becoming increasingly comfortable” with whatever changes the Bank is imposing, certainly do not reflect realities as being felt on the ground by so many small citizens, SMEs, and queuing persons who, no, are not at all seeking the omnichannel experience which Farrugia says that they are so looking for.

As the young grow older there will, yes, of course, be ever-increasing numbers of such individuals using technology. But that is a process that can never be explosively speeded up simply at the expense of totally removing, in some cases simply overnight, the service outlets – branches and/or ATMs – which the older persons would have been using for a very long time, which they had got totally accustomed to, and of which for a big number of reasons they can never be expected to become overnight adopters. 

The approach being followed by practically all of Malta’s banks towards such realities cannot be some smug one where pleasure and satisfaction are felt at the inevitable changes which always take in banking over any span of time. Of course “banking has changed dramatically over these past thirty years”, but to find solace in that as some sort of development which entitles the institutions to simply ride roughshod over the needs of the humbler of our citizens, and overnight enforce whatever they wish to enforce, that is factually a wrong approach.

In the closing paragraph of his piece, Farrugia summarily condemns his shareholders to a situation where they have to accept service being given “surely not at the level of branch diffusion present today”. So there you all are, you people who for long years have been customers of Bank of Valletta, here you are being clearly told to forget whatever services you may have benefitted from in your past years. 

Knowledgeable ICT gurus will tell you that the worst methodology for introducing fintech and other technologies in any sort of enterprise is to, overnight, drastically reduce the number of staff that you had been using with formerly existing systems.

The advice will be to hold the complement tight and then only start reducing after a long time when it will have become obvious that there is rampant underemployment of human resources. The same applies to the introduction of banking technologies.  Stop closing branches and removing ATMs until such time as the need and demand for them will have come down to absolute nil… and then even there be extra cautious… never swashbuckling!