Friday, October 29, 2010

Banking 101

I remember wondering whether banking in Ghana was really as bad an experience as some expat-oriented websites warned before I moved here. It all sounded very ominous and downright scary.
There were accounts detailing experiences with ATMs that copied bank account details and proceeded to empty accounts once users were done, rampant tales of the wily ways of 411/419 scammers, daily recounts of credit cards being used just once after which all account and personal information was 'phished'.
Yes, it does happen. I have had the misfortune of having information 'phished' off my card and my card used on a mini shopping spree in the US, while I unwittingly went about my business in Ghana. But it has happened once in the past two years. In South Africa I was a regular recipient of the Dear Mr. John Smith 419 letter until I updated my anti-virus software and there have been a few times when unauthorised withdrawals from my bank account have been made - from an ATM I had recently used. Similar incidents have happened in Europe and even one in Asia - just pointing out that IT HAPPENS EVERYWHERE!
As with everything that warns of chaos and malfunction in Africa, there's the  element of urban legend that should be considered. By all means, heed the ominous warnings of your friend's brother's colleague, but do retain some perspective - Africa in not the 'dark' continent you have been warned of.

Banking in Ghana can be challenging, but so can banking anywhere in the world where the banking system is in its nascent stage. Admittedly, my experience has been that internet banking does not offer the same convenience here. If expediency is what you're looking for - you're better off making a trip to the bank personally, queuing up and being served the good old-fashioned way; by a teller. But the banking system works and from what I hear, it has come a long way in the last five to ten years, when Nigerian-owned banks, namely Zenith Bank, Intercontinental Bank and GT Bank made their foray onto the Ghanaian banking scene and spurred on a bit of competition and with it competitive pricing and better customer service.

I had a seamless, pleasant experience yesterday when my housekeeper and I made a trip to the Ecobank branch on Oxford Street to apply for a bank account for her. Randomly chosen and for no other reason other than that it is my local bank. She already owns an account with another bank - but the clearing process for her salary was proving to be too long hence why we made the switch to Ecobank. We were in and out in less than twenty minutes and all she has to do is wait for two weeks before her account is active. All that was required was an ID document, passport-size photos and a utility account, failing which she needed a letter of introduction by a current account holder with the bank; which is the reason I went with her.

The choices are wide and varied, along with the myriad of products offered - but the service with most of the banks is competent and functional.
The usual caveats hold; DO NOT divulge your secret pin number to anyone, DO NOT leave your card unattended when using your credit or cheque card and for Goodness sake, should you choose to bank online - DO NOT divulge all your personal information to some stranger offering you returns in excess of what your stock broker offers even in boom economic times, in return for helping to repatriate funds of some long-dead corrupt dictator from a country with a suspect human-rights record. If it seems too good to be true, which it always is, but you still think that maybe, just maybe, this is a legitimate request for ALL your personal and banking details; ask yourself this; Why did this person, who is in such dire need of your help, not use spell-check before they sent you this very important email Mr. John Smith?

Banks is Ghana
GT Bank, Ecobank, Intercontinental Bank, Stanbic Bank , Standard Chartererd, Barclays, Zenith Bank, SG-SSB(former Societe Generale), CalBank, Ghana Commercial Bank.
This list is by no means exhaustive.

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