A Dime A Dozen


A little bit of rain and Gulshan Avenue becomes Gulshan River. When there is a river flowing, there are banks on both sides—Standard Chartered, Citi NA, The City (spelled correctly as opposed to its foreign counterpart), Eastern Bank Ltd, United Commercial Bank Ltd, Basic Bank, Bank Asia, Meghna Bank, Woori Bank, Bank Al Falah, NRB Bank…can't list 'em all in one breath. While Gushan River joins its sorority that makes Bangladesh a riverine country with the Padma River, Meghna River, Jamuna River, Modhumati River…the banks on both sides of Gulshan Avenue River also make Bangladesh a bank-ine country with Padma Bank, Meghna Bank, Jamuna Bank, Modhumati Bank…

At the time of printing this column, there were a good five dozen plus banks in the country. That makes the neighbourhood variety store now competing with mushrooming ATM booths (when there is rain, there are mushrooms). That is a boon for the average person who can, at any time, walk into any ATM booth for some free air conditioning.

I can well imagine how all the bankers are sweating bullets trying to meet their targets. Like they already aren't (sweating bullets) from wearing suits in the heat. I am no finance person, but I am sure the dime a dozen (no pun intended, uhm, on second thoughts, yes, pun intended) banks must be scrambling for the limited cash out there. After all, cash is king, and the king somehow prefers to spread its wings. Supposedly, USD 80 billion has flown away overseas in the last 10 years, thus making Bangladesh's hoondi businessmen Canada and Malaysia's star remittance-earners. Besides, every fiscal year's provisioning of whitening black money (powered by Fair and Lovely) doesn't really help the liquidity crisis of the banks. Hence, when I recently went to an ATM to draw money only to receive a slip saying "insufficient funds", I was wondering whether it was referring to me or my bank.

The job of the bank employee is thus not an enviable one. Perhaps the mobile app Sarahah, which allows people to vent their frustrations anonymously, was developed by a former banker. Bosses are thus tough, setting tough KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), but the good news is that the boss is not Donald Trump, who fires first and then sets targets for them.

All this is not to say that the average banker has no job security. Quite the contrary—there aren't many who are interested to take his job. Hence I am happy that my wife has left her 10-year stint in the banking industry. The insanely long hours have had me see her only three times in those 10 years and thus, we have three children.

With the liquidity crisis, there is now the matter of the banks being smart with investing. Maybe they should invest in SMEs—small and medium enterprises—while avoiding the large ones since the large ones, upon receiving large sums from the banks, tend to somehow shrink into becoming medium and then small enterprises anyway. After all, behind every (well many a) successful businessman, there is a non-performing loan. If I owe the bank Tk 1,000, it is my problem. If I owe the bank Tk 1,000 crore, then, somehow, it becomes the bank's problem. Maybe the loans are taken as though they are marriage loans—if I can't pay back, just take the spouse away…

But one good thing is that the financial institutions are embracing technology. Who knows, a day may come when there may no longer be branches given the way the average consumers are warming up to technology. Not too long ago, I could avoid giving out eidis during Eid with the excuse of running out of cash. Not anymore, the kids merely say: "Uncle, no problem, you can just bKash it to us."

It will be interesting to see what pans out with so many banks out there. But at the moment, for every dime, there are a dozen (banks) running after it (the dime). And the winner, at least during Ramadan, is the foodie enjoying BOGO (Buy One, Get One) Free iftar deals…


Naveed Mahbub is a former engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA, the former CEO of IBM & Nokia Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club. E-mail: [email protected]


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