As an employee of Stanbic Bank Zambia Limited, I wish to request you to withhold my identity for fear of reprisals from the powers that be.
Being at middle management level and, therefore, privy to some inside decisions, I must state that I have religiously followed the happenings in our bank, particularly with regard to how we have been treating client companies headed by indigenous Zambians.
Of particular interest is the case in which we have appealed against the Lusaka High Court’s awarding of K192.5 million to Savenda Management Services Limited in damages for our own internal negligence that made us list the company on the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB) for alleged loan default.
Had the top brass in our bank been regularly consulting us on matters pertaining to the loan agreements we have with local companies, we would not be in the mess we currently are.
While I agree that as an employee of the bank, I have an obligation to ensure maximum profitability, I equally feel I have a patriotic duty to see the growth of Zambian business enterprises.
It goes without saying, in this case, that side by side with our own growth as Stanbic Bank Zambia Limited, we should also take deliberate steps to ensure that our local clients are helped to grow instead of plotting their downfall, thereby leaving the door wide open to the monopoly of South African-owned companies.
The Savenda case has indeed tested our professional competency to the hilt. In any case, it cannot even be said to be misapplication of our professional competency. It is simply malicious and professional negligence.
How sensible is it that out of the 18 loan facilities that Savenda had with us, all of which were sufficiently serviced, we could savagely report the company to the CRB without regard to how we had equally benefited from their business with us?
If I were in the decision-making circle of our bank, I would make a difficult decision of just paying Savenda what the High Court had ordered us to pay because, owing to our carelessness, Savenda’s reputation was dented and they ended up losing significant business contracts during the time the company was reported to the CRB.
Let’s please save our bank from further embarrassment which may make us lose our valued clientele. Or is it that we don’t care at all because we value South African-owned companies more?
During the time we were pounced on by bailiffs at our Lusaka head office in September last year over the K192.5 million Savenda matter, we started hiding our vehicles across all our branches countrywide, fearing that they might be grabbed.
While the bailiffs were busy collecting furniture and computers, there was so much panic and withdraws of cash by senior managers at the instigation of the MD and other bosses. God knows where the money was going as the MD was hiding within the premises.
As this was the time we were changing our systems, even computers belonging to our customers and consultants were collected, attracting onlookers. We couldn’t walk with our heads high. It was so embarrassing.
At that time, no one knew what was going on. We even started operating from a tent pitched at Radisson Blu Hotel.
At senior and middle management level, we are concerned that, as a bank, we have been practicing double standards because when South African-owned companies fail or delay in their loan repayments, settlements are made quietly.
We have seen this happening right from the time of our former managing director Mr Larry Kalala who was just a rubberstamp of his South African bosses. The man was used massively, to the detriment of local companies. But when it suited them, they hastily dumped him.
That’s why it is important to have Zambians running these banks because patriotism is a scarce commodity in most of these foreign-owned banks including ours.
It’s all about arm-twisting.
One wonders whether our Central Bank is really discharging its oversight functions.
I tend to agree with my colleagues from other banks who have concluded that our Central Bank exists only in name as no chief executive officer can be given a permit to run a bank without its approval.
When shall we start believing in the skills of our people so that we help them acquire the requisite experience if that is what they may be lacking?
Little wonder that, owing to the setting up of so-called hubs, bank functions for Zambian transactions, which were previously done by locals, are now performed abroad, thereby having a detrimental effect on our sovereign interests and job losses among the local professionals as well as reduction of the government’s tax net.
As I write this, we at Stanbic Zambia are still grappling with a Supreme Court judgment that was passed last month against us in a matter where Chrismar Hotel Limited had appealed against a High Court ruling that had justified our unsolicited decision to create an overdraft facility for Chrismar Hotel and charge interest simply because of the client’s monthly defaults on its US$1.7 million loan.
In a Supreme Court judgment delivered by Justice Mumba Malila, sitting with Justice Charles Kajimanga and Justice Nigel Mutuna last month, the observations made against us should make us begin to treat our clients better.
The following were the learned judge’s observations:
“Bank charges, especially those not expressly agreed to by customers, are increasingly becoming a worrisome consumer controversy in this country. Many a bank customer have quietly grumbled about what is viewed as un-agreed debits on customers’ accounts made up of variously labeled bank charges. This, coupled with the seemingly unlimited authority of banks to do what they wish with their customers’ accounts in ensuring their profitability, has generated considerable resentment to some banking practices of banking services.
“What precipitated the dispute that ultimately birthed this appeal are some allegedly predatory banking practices undertaken by the respondent bank [Stanbic Bank Zambia] in respect of the appellant’s accounts held with it.”
It is against the foregoing background that I feel the matter we have taken to the Court of Appeal against Savenda is just a face-saving decision that will further expose us to more ridicule as, really, we all know in the bank that there’s no merit. The fault wa s with us.
Anyone who has read Judge Justin Chashi’s landmark High Court ruling, that ordered us to pay Savenda K192.5 million, can tell that we have no leg to stand on in the appeal.
I have decided to say all this because, for a long time, our practices within our bank have been conflicting with my religious faith. Had it not been for scarcity of jobs in Zambia, I would have resigned a long time ago instead of helplessly watching and endorsing wrong and unfair practices.
Stanbic Bank Zambia employee