By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
When the new management of the now defunct Skye Bank, christened Polaris Bank after it was nationalised by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2018, it promised to turn around the bank in the shortest time possible. However, that promise appears to be an uphill task.
Checks by Business Hallmark show that in spite of the appointment of a bridge bank by the apex bank to take over the assets and liabilities of Skye Bank, all seems not to be too well with the new bank. The successor bank is fighting for survival.
The CBN, it would be recalled, had revoked the operating license of the bank and handed it over to Polaris saying the decision was premised on the inability of the owners of the bank to shore up its capital after it received a N350 billion intervention in July 2016.
In all, the CBN has injected over N1trillion into the bank. The first tranche of N350billion when the board was replaced and an additional N786billion, recently.
A two-week survey done by BH on some of the branches of the bank on Lagos mainland, from January 8, to Wednesday, January 23,indicate that despite massive advertisements in major national dailies to assure customers that their savings and deposits are safe, customers are apparently cautious of doing business with the bank.
BH visited the bank’s branches in Iju, Ogba and Ikeja to see how its new managers are coping with the challenges of turning around the fortunes of the bank and to access their service delivery, corporate environment, customer relations among others. It was observed that the banking halls were devoid of activities, with many customers suggesting that the revocation of the license of Skye Bank had further eroded their confidence in the bank.
Though the bank now has a new management, customers appear apprehensive over its future. It was observed that the bank has lost many of its customers. In all the branches visited, the population of customers at the Customer Care sections trying to migrate to other banks were more than those making deposits with the cashiers.
Polaris Bank, Iju Road, Fagba branch
This branch of Polaris Bank, located directly opposite Zenith Bank at Fagba Bus stop, is in a very competitive stretch of Iju-Ishaga Road, Lagos. At the last count, ten banks; namely Union Bank, Polaris Bank, First Bank, Ecobank, Zenith Bank, Fidelity Bank, Access Bank, Sterling Bank, UBA, as well as GTBank, are located within a few metres from each other.
BH observed that though there was adequate parking space within and outside the premises, only four vehicles were actually parked, with two belonging to the bank on Wednesday, January 23.The same scenario played out almost every day during the two weeks survey.
Two courteous and efficient security men in Concorde Guards uniforms complement the regular
mobile policemen stationed at the gate house. The bank’s three (3) Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) were stationed at the left side entrance of the bank. They worked efficiently and were actually dispensing cash. However, only two customers were sighted withdrawing money from the dispensing machines for the period our reporter observed proceedings, unlike the ones in the other banks’ nearby.
The situation inside the banking hall was not so different from the inactivity outside. Though, the banking hall was neat and well organized, it was largely devoid of human traffic. Four Tellers sat behind desks attending to the few customers that showed up during BH visit. It took an average of five minutes to attend to a customer within the 20 minutes (10:42am to 11:02am) BH observed the bank. The customer service section was also devoid of the usual hectic scenes witnessed in banks in recent times. Four bank officers sat behind the two tables attending to customers.
Meanwhile, as fluid and as efficient as the branch’s staff and services were, a little snag cast a shadow on their services. The light purple colour of Polaris, which was added recently, contrasted sharply with the dark blue colour of the defunct Skye Bank, which is still retained in the branch. It makes the banking hall look more like a typical beer parlour than a corporate environment. The walls were crying out for a touch up.
Polaris Bank, County Bus stop, Ogba
Unarguably, one of bank’s most impressive branches on the mainland, the Ogba branch is an imposing edifice, right from the outside to the interior. It has a very large parking space, big enough to accommodate more than 40 vehicles at any time.
The bank’s ATM machines are housed inside a spacious air-conditioned arcade on the right side of the branch. The six dispensing machines in the gallery were working perfectly during BH visits to the branch.
The positive story also continued inside. The banking hall is well laid out and quite comfortable for customers. The hall is well ventilated with central air-conditioners constantly blowing cold air to refresh customers. A water dispenser was also located at the corner for thirsty customers.
Services were very prompt and the few customers were not delayed.
Seven (7) tellers were on seat attending to customers. Three well-dressed officers sat at the ‘Customer Care’ corner waiting for customers who had complaints to lodge.
Two very polite and helpful King Guards security personnel in their crisply starched uniforms were seen attending to customers. At the end of the transactions, they would say, “Do have a nice day! This was a welcome public relation performance for their outfit.
Unfortunately, that is where the pleasant story ends. BH observed during the visits that the bank’s facilities were greatly underutilized, right from the outside. The spacious car park, which can contain over forty vehicles, accommodated only ten during the over one hour our correspondent spent at the branch. Perhaps if the large parking space is commercialized, it might earn the bank even more income. The automated teller machines were also underutilized, with only ten costumers entering the banking hall to transact business during the visit. The same scenario played out almost on every other day during the two weeks survey, albeit with slight variations.
What this suggests is that business is slow in all the branches visited. And it takes no soothsayer to know the bank may find it difficult to remain in business much longer, especially in the face of stiff competition.
Polaris Bank, 89, Allen Avenue, Ikeja
This branch, located adjacent the popular Soji Adepegba Close on Allen Avenue, is a total departure from other branches. From all indications, the narrow5-floor office complex is apparently a rented apartment. While the branch is located on the ground floor and a section of the 1st floor, other businesses take up the remaining floors.
The bank is accessed through only one security door at the entrance which proved problematic during BH investigations. The security apparatus at the door is so sensitive that it often prevents customers, especially female ones with umbrellas, phones, and handbags from entering.
The two times it happened during BH visits to the branch, it created a human traffic jam. Most female customers had to drop their personal belongings (handbags, umbrellas) in a locker at the entrance.
The branch also has a single ATM machine positioned under a staircase that provides access to the four floors above. Sentries from Kings Guards provide security both inside and outside. The interior of the banking hall is an all-white affair, a total departure from its sister branches painted with purple and different shades of blue. The entire ground floor occupied by the bank appears too small for a bank located on such a high highbrow business district, like Allen Avenue. It seats on a 40 by 40ft floor. This is made up of two small offices too. The banking hall itself, after making provisions for two small offices, is left with only a narrow 14 by 30 ft space. This obviously resulted in the busy atmosphere witnessed in the bank, despite the fact that only a couple of customers were around to transact business.
Despite the fact that three officers were on hand to attend to customers, a short queue of six people quickly surfaced during the last visit to the bank on January 23. When approached by BH, one of the tellers blamed the delay on slow network. However, he quickly assured that things will soon improve. True to his words, the queue soon thinned out within ten minutes. In all, ten people, including our correspondent, were spotted during the over 40 minutes stay.
Three bank staff sat idle at the customer care section waiting endlessly for would be customers who were apparently not forth coming.
The digital clock on the foreign exchange board needs a little tinkering with. It was more than fifteen minutes late during BH visit last Wednesday. While the correct time was actually 1:10pm, the one on the board displayed 1:26pm. It spoke volumes on the state of affairs of the bank. Obviously, it would appear as if the bank as a whole is running behind schedule.