The ‘manual’ digital banks of Uganda, part 2

Whoever sent coronavirus to the world is anti-mankind. So many things we used to take for granted have now become a sort of exclusive. Whether it is traveling, attending parties or social events, people are so careful and worried. It is just six months of ‘social distancing’ but these days people look at you and your hands with a lot of suspicions. It is as if you are the coronavirus ambassador.

In the same spirit, no one wants to go to the banking hall to process transactions that could be done digitally. It is even worse when the bank asking you to visit the nearest branch has been preaching and singing the digital-first agenda song as early as 2000!

Yes, many banks in Uganda started setting the strategic focus area “leveraging on technology to deliver customer service excellence” way back in 2000, as part of their strategic plan priorities! It is now 20 years later, the same banks continue to discuss the digital revolution at the board level, but the digital agenda seems to be miles away.

In part 1, I told you about bank A. Since I had over some balance on the visa debit card, I had to find a way of going to the banking hall to process a new card and access my money.

The manual ‘digital’ banks in Uganda

When you reach the banking hall, you experience firsthand, the digital illiteracy of the staff in the banking halls. That is where banks are failing. Whereas the top management is clear about the digital vision and the capabilities required, progress is slow due to the failure to train their middle and front-line managers about the digital-ready mindset. A lot of investment in digital banking for the modern VUCA + pandemic era have been made, but the execution is poor.

Accordingly, many banks in Uganda are giving an awful bad banking experience, while marketing “digital.” It is the worst marketing gimmick of all time; I am getting to know. It appears, banks understand digital from myopic view as being on social media networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and of course implementing a core banking application to facilitate withdrawals via mobile phone, internet, and agency banking.

With my visa debit card expired, the pressure kept pilling by the day to have it renewed. iTunes charges me monthly for the cloud hosting back up of my phone. So does Google, Amazon for my cloud services, including Amazon books and Netflix. When you have monthly services like these, the card is charged on time. Two days later, I received consecutive messages of charges on my visa debit card, that had been flagged as expired. Each message showed a charge on my account. It is painful to be helpless as you make losses especially during tough times like these of economy lockdown.

See Figures 1 and 2. If this is not fraud by another name, what else is it? How do you charge an expired card? I thought maybe it is a charge by Visa for every initiated transaction on the card that fails to go through but is passed directly to the cardholder.

Figure 1: Charge on my expired card of Ugx. 4,255.

Figure 2: Second charge on my expired card, with Ugx. 4,255


I tried to contact the bank that issued the card. On Twitter, there is no help. I tried sending a message to both the Group Office Twitter Account and one of the local banks. Five hours later, I got feedback from the group office Twitter account advising me to visit the local branch for assistance. To date, the local bank is yet to contact me. I never give up. I tried the customer helpline, there was no one picking. I tried the Facebook account, I realized I was chatting with a bot. It is the worst abuse of artificial intelligence innovation on their page. There is no help. One wonders whether these people who put their faces on the bank website as management team ever try to use the services they offer to customers.

Unrelenting, I sent a WhatsApp message to the indicated number as “customer touch point” my foot. Nothing works. It is a total failure of real-time customer support. On a scale of 10 (excellent) to one (very poor), I would score this bank’s customer service at 1.

My visit to the bank branch.

By the time I set off to the bank, I had made my mind to change the bankers. Before I set off from home, I checked many bank websites to find one with a good digital agenda. I wanted a bank that has complete digital compliance from origination to conclusion. I was looking for a bank where I can go to their website, select the preferred service, register online, take a photo of my ID with my phone, and submit as well as put any required KYC, and in case of any required document, they ask me to pass by the bank any time with say a copy of my ID so as pick the visa debit or credit card.

Unfortunately, I could not find such a bank.

I found one which we trying to do better. Their WhatsApp was working, and their online banking gave information that I found adequate. I filled the new account opening form. On the website, I was advised to visit the bank branch with my national ID and passport photo.

Off I went.

At the bank, I spent 85 minutes in the banking hall. The good news, I got a new visa debit card on a single visit. I was excited. In the past, getting a visa card would take a week. How times have changed.

Unfortunately, the people at the branch could not use trace the information I had posted via the website. They instead put me through a hell of paperwork – sign here, sign there, sign here… it is so annoying and frustrating.

You cannot implement a digital agenda when most of the staff in the bank have a manual banking mindset. Banks in Uganda must urgently conduct weekly staff training about automation and operations transformation.

With the new visa debit card in hand, I proceeded to Bank A, to withdraw my cash. This bank is a disappointment. The staff is slow. The queue is long. Any bank that has not fast-tracked automation to keep people away from coming to the banking hall, except for special cases, is failing the industry.

I was asked for my national ID, and passport photo. I tried to protest, but as usual, I was told “this is the procedure.” The regulator requires us to get the national ID. But I said, what if I took a photo of the same since it is registered with the government, is it not enough. They continued photocopying and brought a plethora of forms for me to sign.

Money does not buy class.  This bank boasts of a global footprint and offices in top markets like New York, London, and Paris and one wonders whether the same mediocre service is offered in those markets.

I enquired how to withdraw my money and was told only with a visa debit card. I had to see the renewal process through. After about three hours, I finally got the visa card. But I had to wait for 24 hours to have my money loaded on the new visa. At least, I had solved the problem.

But I was bruised. I saw an opportunity in establishing a truly digital bank.

What is a truly digital bank?

I made a presentation to the board of directors of a bank in Bangkok. If you want the PPT, contact me via DM or comment below with your email and why you need the PPT. I will send it to you.

Hint: a truly digital bank invests in a banking system as a platform NOT as a software. The difference between platform and software is the former empowers all stakeholders especially customers and business partners to thrive and make money using the platform, while the latter just helps customers access their bank balances and transfer money. That is at the lowest level of digital maturity.

Do you need a thought leadership talks to your EXCO and Board about banking processes value analysis for automation readiness and digital transformation? Call Mr. Strategy to facilitate your next strategic plan.

Be transformed.

Copyright Mustapha B Mugisa, 2020. All rights reserved.

Share this

Most Popular Insights



Related Articles

How your partner or foes hack into your phone

It is a Monday morning. The alarm goes off. You raise your head and reach over to your phone. Time check, its 5:00am. You

Mobile money is a national security risk!

In 2015, Commercial Court Justice Christopher Madrama ruled in Katuntu vs Mtn Uganda Ltd & Anor that mobile money services offered by telecommunication companies,

Playing to win

“We have to take a chance and play to win. It doesn’t mater if we lose, we have to try to win.” That is

The summitadvantage: how Summit Consulting improves the client’s condition, part 1

Summit Consulting Ltd provides organizational toolkits and educative workshops to stop revenue leakages (forensics), sell more, raise employee morale and transform your organization by helping

About Author