It’s interesting to look back and see how much things have changed along my route. For instance, I remember when the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange was a sprawling circle, reputed to be the biggest in West Africa – thus explaining why some people still call the bus-stops “Roundabout” – complete with maize planted in the middle by some opportunistic local who saw nothing but free farmland for the taking. Housing complexes and office towers have arisen where there was once nothing but dirt, and now, on almost every high building in town you see signage for one of our many banks.
Indeed, even in the most residential parts of East Legon, a bank is never really far away. When I was much younger, this select club of moneymen was tossed afar in the middle of the city, a world away from home and comforts.
As we passed a bank in a trotro I was in, a man wearing a pained expression and a terribly loud red blazer lamented to any who would offer him the attention he craved about some downright shabby treatment he had received. Nobody could keep a straight face. It was impossible to separate fact from fiction as his willing audience goaded him on with questions and insinuations of their own. We were busily lambasting the corporate suits whose sole mission in life, depending on who you listen to, is to milk the public dry and wrinkled.
You would be surprised at how some customers happen to be hopelessly ignorant about basic banking procedures. I have personally seen many enter a banking hall looking totally clueless. They probably have countless pitiful tales about their banking tribulations. Unfortunately, even in Cape Town, I suffered at the hands of the folks at Standard Bank while attempting to do a money transfer. It was a harrowing experience, being tossed this way and that until I was finally told that it was impossible for me to perform the function. Forget what the website said about ease of transaction. I was all but ready to rip out my hair a handful at a time.
As a university student it was like Independence Day when I finally got my ATM card. The line at GCB KNUST was infamously dreadful. And it started from outside before the bank opened for business. Checking your balance was nightmarish in itself. The queue snaked its way all over, and it easily took an hour to get to the front. Forget about that lecture if you thought you were taking a quick dash to get some money. On one fateful occasion, an official received a stinging tongue-lashing from me after he told me that my signature was wrong. I never knew I had it in me.
In the years since, banks have sprung up like termites out of a smoke-filled anthill, snapping young graduates up, irrespective of what they did. They come from fields as wide and as unrelated as the tired overused cliché, Archaeology to Zoology. Gone are the older female cashiers, replaced by picture perfect stilettoed beauties. Maybe we grew to expect that with this explosion would come one minute queues and the like. Not a chance. To me, it seems the bending line is still an ego booster to the banks. One time, as if being in a banking hall wasn’t bad enough, the situation worsened as I stood behind a man pulling wad after wad of cash from his Ghana-must-go bag. It was like the dark pre-redenomination days all over again. I just resigned to my fate and slowly allowed my mind to drift.
My guess is that on your own commute is a whole mob of banks that you have either had the pleasure or misfortune of being in. Have you had your account suffer recession and told there was nothing that could be done? Or have you been turned away because a minor detail – by your own definition, to be fair – is missing?
The man spewing venom about the whole industry would just not let it rest. He was on fire. By the time I got to Ridge, bankers were still the hot topic. Our mate was distastefully snickering at a story of two bankers, decked in suits and ties, walking the dusty streets of Accra in search of clients. He failed to see the logic in working up foot mileage for this cause, dying a slow death in Accra’s sweltering heat. I saw his point. A few steps ahead to my left, I could see the headquarters of Stanbic Bank and Fidelity Bank in the distance. Perhaps, these two bankers the mate was having a round laugh at would give anything to have a corner office with a view of the city. If work doesn’t kill them first.