Each time we discuss the quality of banking services, many questions are raised. The Tunisian financial sector, including the banking sector, has remained, for a long time, a closed one, where the depositor was not considered a client. As deadlines for the liberalization of the sector approaches and as Western banks are preparing their strategies to compete with national financial actors on their own ground, Tunisian customers still want to see Tunisian banks more welcoming and demand better transparency in the management of their money. Hedi Hadj Mabrouk, treasurer of the Consumer Protection Organization (ODC) focuses, in an interview with African Manager, on the importance of this issue that directly affects many Tunisians. It is also an opportunity to assess progress towards improving the quality of banking services and especially note improvements still needed for a straight relationship between banks and consumers of banking services.
What is your assessment of the relationship between Tunisian consumers and banks?
Over the past years, remarkable progress has certainly been made in banking, as a result of the substantial improvement of the intellectual level of engaged personnel and their professional qualifications, the use of performing computer tools, the increased use of new information and communication technologies, the application of advanced techniques in financial engineering and the development of management rules and at this level, the degree of customer satisfactionis increasing. According to banking professionals, more than 80% of clients are satisfied with the quality of services. These are figures from the latest survey conducted by the APTBEF in December 2009.<
But does this mean that everything is Ok?
Not really. Despite the gains and achievements made towards improving the quality of banking services, much remains to be done particularly in terms of transparency of transactions, information and guidance of consumers.
Worth reminding that the Tunisian approach seeks to strengthen the role played by the bank branch as a link with customers, recalling at the same time the presidential objective to create 400 new branches by 2014. In this regard, banks are required to do their best to improve services for customers by sticking to good banking practice and relying on information technologies which ensure the promptness, diligence and transparency of their services.
Does the Consumer Protection Organization (ODC) receive complaints from bank users and how frequent they are?
The ODC receives complaints from consumers, including a section on banking. I can tell you that all complaints are centralized at the headquarters of the organization and are being carefully monitored. Regarding the frequency of complaints alleging banking violations, the organization witnessed a decline in complaints received.
Note that these complaints are received by the organization via its e-mail address “[email protected]” either by telephone (freephone) or by regular mail.
What are the main criticisms to the banks?
Consumers complain, first, of the use of credit cards. This is the first source of complaints against banks. Then come the lack of transparency of bank charges, fixing the date of settlement of loan repayment dates by the end of the month (hence the additional bank charges incurred by bank users as a result of account debtor) etc…
How does the ODC intervenes in this regard to remedy the situation?
The ODC seeks fundamentally to follow very closely the complaints issued by citizens. Our role is to ensure, by various means, the transparency required in order to highlight any deficiencies, as well as strengths. Our goal is to ensure a constant level of satisfaction of customers and preserve permanently, their interests and rights in respect of these institutions.
How do you see the future of the banking sector in Tunisia?
In a national context characterized by greater economic and financial liberalization and considering the move towards liberalization of services (GATS) and the intensification of competition, it has become imperative for the Tunisian banking system to upgrade and strengthen its competitiveness. The profitability of the banking business in Tunisia to reach the level expected passes necessarily by the consecration of the culture of excellence in service-providing and making the efficiency and quality the basis of banking activity.
Recognizing the importance of the issue of quality, the Tunisian government stated that customer satisfaction is a big challenge. Accordingly, professionals should be more understanding and make more efforts while focusing on customer awareness and their guidance. The main measures to be taken by banks in the next period aim to improve the quality of banking services and thus protect consumers and strengthen customer confidence in this sector. Banks also seek to develop internal training programs and generalized them to all staff. Moreover, the quality of bank services does not depend solely on financial institutions. Consumers are called, in turn, to be aware of their rights so that they can claim them. And this is the role of awareness that the ODC is called to play. In this regard, ODC seeks to raise the level of banking and insurance services by improving services provided to consumers and the national economy. Quality is not a set of rules, circulars and instructions. It is rather a mentality, a will and a professional conscience.This is why banks should learn to communicate differently.
There is a political will to make Tunisia a regional platform in the financial sector, is it easy to achieve this goal?
Tunisia has managed, unlike many other emerging countries, to preserve its sovereign rating assigned by the major agencies and to improve its rating by several international institutions. In this context, it seeks to start a new generation of reforms, in line with the objectives set by the 12th item of the presidential program “Together We Meet Challenges,” which aims to make Tunisia a center of banking services and a regional financial hub. Achieving this objective is based on the implementation of full convertibility of the dinar before the end of 2014, the preservation of financial balances, the availability of substantial foreign exchange resources, strengthening of the financial foundations of banks, broader flexibility of exchange and greater efficiency of monetary policy.