It must have been in 2015 when a news article was carried in one of the papers about a certain William Sichinga from Blantyre who had an “accident” in the banking hall of one of the commercial banks after he was denied access to the bank’s restrooms.
After waiting for three hours to be assisted, his bladder needed emptying and as most of us know, sometimes when it is time to go, it is time to go. Sichinga approached a security guard and asked if he could use the bank’s toilet but he was denied for “security reasons”.
He pleaded with the guard for a few more minutes but that was as long as nature could allow him. He let go and peed in his pants. The article indicated that the later apologised to Sichinga for the incident, but the apology was more for the embarrassment he endured not for refusing him the use of the bank’s toilet facilities.
I bring this incident up now, four years later, because I notice that our banks in the cities still do not have toilet facilities that customers can use while they wait to be assisted. It looks like the Sichinga incident in 2015, unfortunate as it was, did not really strike any cords with our banks to cause them to make any changes.
It is not like in the four years that have passed these banks have gotten any better in terms of being efficient to reduce the waiting time for customers. In fact, some have actually gotten worse. Customers are spending even longer hours in the queue. Where do these people go when they need to use the bathroom?
Customers who go to banks that are located in public places like at shopping malls it is a bit easier as they can leave the queue and rush to a public toilet, but it is a totally different story for banks that are located elsewhere. Take the banks operating in City Centre in Lilongwe for instance. There are no public toilets in City Centre, which means if one plans to go to the bank they must make sure that they do all toilet business at home.
The reason this is sad is that these banks thrive because of us the clientele, although our welfare seems to always come as an after-thought to the bank managers. I appreciate the water dispensers that are available in some banks and the air conditioning, but how about when I need to go?
I find it to be a bit pretentious for most upmarket banks that they make sure that customers are served with a smile and a formal greeting, some even challenge that if you do not get this you should demand payment of a certain amount from the teller. Yet if you asked this same teller to use the restroom she would quickly withdraw her smile and tell you that you cannot use the bank’s toilet.
If the issue is indeed security, which I understand, why can’t these banks construct toilets outside the banking hall?
I feel that as customers we have not pushed our banks hard enough on this issue. The effects of the absence of toilets, I believe, are something that all of us have either directly experienced like Sichinga or have noticed but we have somehow chosen to remain silent. I think it’s time we spoke out.
Banks exist because of the money that we entrust them with. When we need to access this money we need to be provided quality service, we need to be made comfortable, we need to be treated with dignity and we need the provision of toilet facilities. We do not get these in most banks because we have not demanded them.
Marcus Muhariwa is a trained journalist and communications professional. He has a passion for writing on social issues.