Corona hits banking halls, alters business normalcy

Thursday, June 4th, 2020 00:00 | By
A banking hall. Photo/PD/FILE

Traditional banking habits are proving to be the weak link in curbing the spread of the novel Covid-19 as it proliferates at the community phase.

In the last three weeks there has been a growing number of Covid-19 infections in banking halls, blamed on over-the-counter banking and physical exchanges of cash money.

The wave of infections has sent shock waves in the financial sector and other organisations with cash payment counters.

Despite Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) having taking actions to encourage contactless payments, it appears coronavirus is escalating in the sector, with dozens of employees having contracted the virus.

Banking halls, which are normally small and crowded, have been cited as potential source of accelerated spread of the disease.

With the approval of CBK, banks have announced numerous measures, including the waiving of mobile-money transfer charges until June 30 to encourage cashless payments and quarantining of banknotes.

The banks have also implemented Ministry of Health (MoH) precautionary measures including the installation of hand sanitisers, provision of thermometers and ensuring customers entering the facilities have face masks.

However, despite all this, many banks and other organisations with banking halls have continued to record high number of customers queuing for services.

Apart from banks, other sectors which handle huge cash are also recording a spike in infections with the latest being Kenya Power which on Tuesday reported that three of its employees in Mombasa had contracted the virus.

All the employees were working at the banking hall which was temporarily closed to allow disinfection.

Managing Director Bernard Ngugi said all staff at the Electricity House’s first floor had been asked to self quarantine at home as they await Covid-19 test results.

Despite KP having cashless payment system, many of Kenyans crowd at the company’s banking hall to pay for power supply among other services. This means the virus could have been spread from a infected customer to the staff or vice versa.

The hard task by MoH now remains to trace customers who could have come into contact with the three KPLC staff.

On May 31, Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Peter Ndegwa announced closure of Thika Road Mall (TRM) shop, after a staff member tested positive for coronavirus.

The company also receives huge number of customers visiting its customer care halls. There have also been concerns coronavirus could be spread by paper money and coins.

Three banks among them the regulator (CBK), Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) have also reported Covid-19 cases.

The latest was KCB, which had to close down one of its branches in Mombasa after a staff member tested positive for Covid-19.

Group Chief Executive Officer Joshua Oigara said the bank was providing precautionary measures internally to ensure its staff remain safe.

“Our priority remains safeguarding the safety and well-being of all our staff, customers and other stakeholders during these difficult times. 

“The affected staff who were working with him have been informed and are currently undergoing counseling and screening to ensure their safety and well being,” he said.

The bank encouraged affected customers to access services using its digital channels or visit nearby branches and agents for assistance.

On March 28, Diamond Trust Bank announced that one of its staff members at its Kilifi branch had tested positive for Covid-19. 

The lender said the staff came into contact with an infected person. This lead to temporary closure of the branch.

“We continue to encourage customers to use our alternative banking channels and cash management options such as online banking, mobile banking, and ATMs. 

“We have implemented extra measures to ensure these services are available 24/7 and have waived charges on transfers from accounts to mobile wallets as well as fees for all PesaLink transactions,” said Chief Executive Nassim Devji.

A CBK employee at the Mombasa branch is also reported to have passed on after being infected with the virus.

Ann Muthoni, a trader at Kongowea Market says that despite banks encouraging people to use cashless money, she receives huge payment in cash from customers who come to buy potatoes in bulk and this means she has to go to the bank daily.

“I can’t go home with the money, most of the cashless payments have limits. I buy and sell and therefore after selling potatoes at Kongowea, I must send money to people in the farm to send me more stock. I deposit the money in their bank accounts,” she said.

Another trader, John Waswa who also trades in fresh produce, says that he does not feel safe walking with huge amounts of cash to deposit with mobile money service providers because most of them do not have adequate cash.

 “I want somewhere I can deposit and withdraw or transfer to suppliers who send me farm produce as far from Tanzania.

I have to send money so that traders there send me goods in Mombasa,” he said.

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