Banking Sector Woes: Customers Complain of Bribery, Extortion, Poor Customer Service

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"After paying a portion of the men’s wages, this is what left with me and I cannot use it to do anything," James L. Miamen complained.

GN Bank, GT Bank at forefront of the blame

James Libeawon Miamen is a United States retiree whose pension money comes directly to his Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank) account in Liberia. The money, he says, though transferred in US dollars, is paid to him in Liberian dollars here as ordered, accordingly by the Central Bank of Liberia, and this is what he survives on in Liberia.

On June 5, 2020, he had gone to the branch of GT Bank on Randall Street in central Monrovia to withdraw L$30,000 from his account, but unfortunately for him, the huge bundles of money given him contain L$17,000 in mutilated notes that have no use to purchase goods and services.

The rule is, however, strict at the GT Bank. It is written in the banking hall, “Please check your money before leaving the banking hall.” While cognizant of this rule coupled with advice from the bank teller to check the money before leaving, Miamen, knowing that many customers were waiting to transact business, could not check the money but left with the hope and confidence that the bank is conscious of customers and will therefore not mix acceptable notes with mutilated ones.

“I am not able to use L$17,000 out of the money I got from my account at the GT Bank, and I went for this money to pay people whom I hired their services. Why will a bank that should provide good services to customers mix unacceptable mutilated notes with good ones to give to a customer? After paying a portion of the men’s wages, this is what left with me and I cannot use it to do anything. I have to credit L$200.00 to pay my way to come to your office here,” Miamen said.

Money given Miamen was in two denominations; some L$50.00 notes while others were L$100.00. This is in consonance with the rule of the bank that whenever a customer goes for money above L$10,000, he or she be given higher denominations to reduce the quantity taken home, but even with the application of this rule, Miamen is unable to make use of the money given him as the notes are all torn up with the serial numbers of most of them out.

The frustration facing Miamen now is not different from what many customers are going through at various banking institutions across the country. While the festive season was approaching last year, banks could not meet withdrawal requests from customers who have deposits in their banks. The excuse was, there was no money in the bank. As a result, many people could not adequately meet the needs of their families.

A highly placed employee at the GT Bank told this paper on June 12, 2020, that Miamen does not have a case because if he had remained in the banking hall to check the money and removed the mutilated notes, the bank would have replaced them.

“Perhaps this customer has gone out and gotten mutilated notes to taint the image of the bank. The rule here is strict. Customers must remain in the hall to check their money and get out any mutilated ones, and no teller will refuse to replace the mutilated notes,” said the employee.

Currently, banking halls are restricted to holding a certain number of customers at a time in compliance with health protocols for the Coronavirus. This results in long queues of customers standing outdoors in the open fully exposed to the elements-rain and sun. Bank tellers are said to be using the situation to extort money from weary customers desperately seeking to avoid long delays and prolonged periods of waiting.

At the GN Bank in Ganta, Nimba County, a customer who only identified herself as Koe said: “My friend in the US sent me US$475 to give to her people here, but when I went to that GN Bank, a female teller is there telling me to give her US$20.00 out of the money. I told her the money is not for me, and she insisted that since I cannot do it, she cannot serve me. Later, she told me that the bank did not accept the transfer from America and therefore I cannot receive the money.”

Another woman, Comfort, who operates a provision shop near the Ganta market said: “That is what we are experiencing with all the banks around here including that GN Bank. I can’t call name because the girl you are talking about has families in the same church I am, but she and those other tellers will demand you to pay them some money out of what you go for before serving you. I have paid US$50.00 to them there to give me money that was sent to me from America.”

When the GN Bank authority was contacted on June 12, 2020, one of the staff (name withheld) said: “This is not how the bank operates. When we are short of money, we tell the customers to exercise patience, but no teller is allowed to extort money from customers to provide services.”

On the question of what the bank can do amid the complaints, she said: “We have suggestion boxes that customers can write complaints and drop in them.

At the Ecobank 11th Street headquarters, a customer who had gone to withdraw US$100 transferred to him through Western Union said a teller at the bank compelled him to give her US$10 out of the money before processing his transaction.

Ivy Fairley Fahnbulleh, Corporate and Brand Communications Manager of Ecobank said: “I hope I can get the customer’s number to do the investigation. It should not be, let me be honest with you, it should not be. We have customer registry in the branches and we have not seen such a complaint, but it is not true. I am not saying it is impossible to happen, but it is not true.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Extortion is rife at all banks in Liberia. I personally lost tens of thousands of USD to Ecobank and LBDI staff mostly at the international transfers departments from extortion and plain theft. You believe your money is safe in the banks, but its actually staff and management stealing it. The top management will try to get staff released from jail, rather than standing for their clients. My personal experience with GT-bank is not too bad although the provision they take for incoming USD is extremely high.

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