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Navigating The Labyrinth...

A Quest for Transparency and Accessibility of Bank Products


Quad Tee was recently commissioned to research the existing financing that is currently available in Uganda for MSMEs, scoping from impact investment projects to commercial bank products. Having struggled to find sufficient information about the bank’s financial products online, and not having too much further luck via phone toll conversations, I embarked on a journey to delve into 14 different banks in person, anticipating a straightforward exploration of readily available information within the branches. This included a combination of Tier 1 and 2 banks, reflecting the same experience among both. To my surprise, what I discovered was a labyrinth of obstacles and discretion, where the path to understanding the products and services offered by these institutions proved to be far from linear. In this thought piece, I share some intriguing insights from my quest for knowledge within the walls of Ugandan* bank branches.




1. The Absence of Brochures and Leaflets


One of the initial surprises I encountered during my venture was the conspicuous absence of brochures, leaflets, or catalogues within these banking establishments. In an era dominated by digital information, the scarcity of tangible promotional materials left me puzzled. While the absence of physical pamphlets may suggest a desire for customer engagement and personalisation, it also raises concerns about accessibility and transparency for prospective clients.


2. The Art of Negotiation


A unique facet of Ugandan banking practices is the negotiability of product terms, particularly when it comes to loans. I came to discover that banks deliberately limit the online dissemination of information to encourage potential clients to visit their branches in person. This strategy not only facilitates face-to-face negotiations but also provides the institution with a competitive edge. The ability to tailor product terms to individual circumstances fosters a dynamic relationship between banks and customers.

3. The Mosaic of Product Details


No two banks in Uganda are the same when it comes to their product offerings. The variation in available loan amounts, credit criteria, and collateral requirements is staggering. Each institution weaves its unique narrative, tailored to its client's banking history, risk appetite, and financial capabilities. This divergence in product details highlights the complex and ever-evolving nature of the Ugandan banking landscape.


4. Time As a Barrier


Another noteworthy revelation is the temporal barrier that some banks impose. While certain institutions mandate a waiting period of three months to a year before clients can access certain products, others have no such restrictions. This temporal divide underscores the disparities in banking practices within the country and raises questions about the fairness of such policies.


5. The Challenge of Obtaining Objective Information


One of the most frustrating aspects of my journey was the difficulty in extracting objective information from a research standpoint. The subjectivity of each banking institution's approach to customer inquiries presented a significant roadblock. I gauged a sense of resistance and uncooperativeness when asking for information from a “general” perspective, which hindered my quest for comprehensive knowledge. Most banks seemed only willing to cooperate when given exact specific details about the “business in question for funding.”



Conclusion


In conclusion, my foray into Ugandan bank branches revealed a banking landscape characterised by intricacies and idiosyncrasies. While the absence of promotional materials and the emphasis on personal negotiations provide a unique customer experience, they also raise concerns about transparency and accessibility. The diversity in product details, temporal restrictions, and the subjectivity of information dissemination further highlights the complexity of navigating the Ugandan banking sector.


As the financial industry continues to evolve, it is imperative that Ugandan banks strike a balance between fostering personalised relationships with clients and providing accessible, transparent information. Only through this delicate equilibrium can they truly empower their customers to make informed financial decisions in a rapidly changing world and access to finance can be improved.



*This research took place in Kampala.


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