Once in a while, members of professional institutes congregate at resorts, mostly along the lake, to talk, wine, dine and dance in what is disguised as continued professional development (CPD).
During these congregations, prominent business captains are invited to preach on a variety of topics before wining and dining begins.
The rationale behind is noble. The inspiring talk is supposed to enhance professionalism and hence make Malawi a better country, led and managed by industrious accountants, lawyers, marketers, insurers, auditors, procurement experts and what have you.
Once the guru has addressed the membership, whether the guru can actually dance or is the type that just prance about in lieu of ‘dancing’, they have the singular honour of opening the dance floor before the congregants—now on cloud nine with good food and wine—can express their horizontal desires vertically on the dance floor.
Whether these shindigs do engender ‘excellence’ or they are just opportunities to socialise, wine, dine and waltz to good music after an excellent meal, is a debate for another day.
Suffice to say that some people and professions we know as being at the very core of Cashgate and all sorts of fraud in Malawi, religiously attend these congregations.
I will leave this at that.
What caught my attention is the recent one in Blantyre, the graduation ceremony of students of the Institute of Bankers (IOB), a training body for the Bankers Association of Malawi (Bam) and the annual dinner thereafter.
For this event, the guest of honour was Felix Mlusu, retired group chief executive officer of Nico Holdings.
Delivering the key note address, under the theme Sustainable Business Development through Accessible and Affordable Financial Services, Mlusu went ballistic.
On your and my behalf, good old Felix went to town on bungling Malawian bankers, and while staring right into their cheeky faces, told them off.
He told them they are selling us short and that if they want to stay in business, they must pull up their socks.
If you were new to Malawi and happened to be in the Njamba Room and overheard him putting our bankers in their place, you would not be faulted for believing that a ‘Messiah’ had landed; his mission: to redeem Malawi from the stranglehold of clueless but highly opportunistic bankers.
Blue Talkers, among other things, Mlusu observed that customer service in most commercial banks is non-existent. This, according to him, is why Malawian banks have long queues in the banking halls and on ATMs.
The veteran insurer then dressed down bankers over ‘lack of innovation’, saying financial institutions are just recycling the same old products and services developed decades ago.
Excellent stuff from the old boy, telling it like is, and I was impressed.
He then bemoaned lack of competition, saying all the bankers are follow-fashion zombies.
“For example, in deposit mobilisation, when one bank launches a promotion for a motor vehicle or cash prizes, all banks follow suit!” Mlusu said to a raucous applause.
All I could say was: “Dumba! Aphalire Nganya!” (speak! tell them pal!)
He then dared banks to embrace innovation when coming up with base lending rates as well as interest on savings.
“An interest rate spread of 18 percent is not very good for the development of the country. I know you have to make money for your shareholders but you also need to think about the customer, ” Mlusu said.
“Where was this fella all this time?” is the question long-suffering victims of our banks were asking by this time.
And still, he was not yet done. Without missing a beat, he then took a swipe at the Reserve Bank of Malawi, saying regulation is supposed to facilitate growth and not the downfall of the industry.
I will say no more.
As you are aware, Mlusu, until his retirement this year, was not just an insurance policy vendor at Nico; he was the group chief executive officer of Nico Group, presiding over companies operating in Malawi and abroad.
By virtue of his position, he was chairman of the Board of Trustees in companies where Nico held majority shareholding, one of which is the NBS Bank of Malawi. And, this is what I find confusing.
Here is the former overseer of NBS Bank, an institution yet to hear the word “innovation”, a bank whose halls have queues akin to outpatient departments of a hospital during an epidemic, posing as a messiah.
Did my mother, I ask myself, not always insist that ‘charity begins at home?’
Thank goodness, my confusion did not last and I established that his lashing out at the banking sector, after years of presiding over the worst of them, was absurd.
You see, if there is a bank that runs like a village operation, then NBS Bank, whose mediocrity he was ‘sitting on’, is.
Remember those mad days in October 2015 when one could not withdraw money and most service centres remained closed for hours and days?
What did NBS Bank do? Kept us in the dark; feeding us contradictory explanations each passing hour and day.
I would give Mlusu and NBS Bank some slack if this were a one-off failure but customers—as we speak— still get stranded inNBS banking halls or ATMs because “netiweki yathawa” (Network is down).
On innovation, what did he do when he was chairing NBS Bank to catalyse and reward innovation?
And if he did something, why did he not give management this ‘inspirational talk’ when they were insisting on running the bank like something from Noah’s Ark?
The point, Blue Talkers, is: Mlusu should be the first one to know that closing the stable door after the horse has bolted is utter stupidity. Plus, we all remember Atcheya, the former president Bakili Muluzi. He was right when he said “wapakaliyala sayimba belu” (you can never call the shot from the shadows).
And hence, good old Felix should have fixed the mess at the NBS Bank when he was in the ‘saddle’ and not now when he is mere cargo on the ‘carrier’, like you and me.
Whatever the case, his castigating the sick system he failed to fix reflects badly on him.
And to an extent, this is why the lakeshore pilgrimages that our professionals undertake annually are, at best, show grounds for dubious have-beens to brag and at worst, breeding excursions for Cashgaters.
My message for the eminent Mlusu: next time you are invited, please do the following: first, own your shortcomings and then analyse them, explaining what you should have done better, rather than masquerading as a ‘messiah’ when in your time, you did little to effect the change you want to see – at least, at the NBS Bank.
In my case, every time I am on a mile-long queue at NBS Bank waiting for ‘netiweki’, my memories of Mlusu’s tenure as chairman of the NBS Bank will remain sore.
I sincerely hope the new chairman will fix things while he still can.
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