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BUS STOP BANKING HALL

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Rowdy bus stop as this in Cele is banking premises.

Open…open…open. That is the new song that has raised the decibels of the cacophony at the Cele Bus stop and maybe some other rowdy and busy places of Lagos. It is not a call to scare you to open your wallet or bags for the deadly operatives that dominate the bus stops to see and possess the contents. It is rather the new call for banking patronage.

As you still wonder what the scream is about, another round of calls come with further information which makes you know it is about opening a bank account. 'Oga, open your savings account with us', the voice of a young man or lady would implore as he/she approaches you in a tone of solicitation. The caller would not allow a minute to ask any questions before he starts reeling out what the account opening requires.

This is what you would call the latest face of banking in Nigeria. In fact, banks have shown that Nigerians can be positively creative when confronted with dire situations that task their survival. Banks have really embarked on the unimaginable since the post consolidation era to make sure they remain in business.

Before consolidation, you needed fortunes to open an account. But today, what they need is numbers. They have climbed off their high horses and have actually rolled up their sleeves for tasking business.

The blazing sun was not a deterrent to these youths who spot their T-shirt with inscriptions of the banks they labour for. If there is a medal for noisemaking, I would say Cele Bus stop can pick a medal without much contest. That is the bus stop where Governor Babatunde Fashola is building a bridge to cross into Ijesha from Okota. It is one of those spots the Fashola bug has eaten deep into. Near the screaming bankers at this noisy area is a bulldozer mowing debris of pulled down buildings and shacks to make way for traffic flow and the bridge under construction.

While you listen to the wooing of the bus stop banker with one ear, you watch out for a nearby sound of the rolling engine to make sure it does not come too close to mark you with its metal crocodile-like teeth. As it goes back and forth, people jump across to avoid its approach. That is also how vehicles maneouvre to avoid it. There are actually many things to avoid - the ubiquitous okada, buses, cars, trucks, human beings and many more. It is in this sea of ear racking noise and screams that bankers have found a spot to do their business.

Saturday Sun listened to these people at the wrong place seemingly while battling to catch some fresh breathe as the sky above had been darkened by a thick billow of smoke rising from burning refuse. It was so dark that the light of the blazing sun was shut out for sometime. The smoke fills the nose as the heat bites harder. But the bankers never stopped in their incessant calls to everyone passing to open a savings account with Bank PHB.

The bank you will see here is the Bank PHB, and another called Citiserve. The latter is a microfinance bank. It has its branch in Idimu that spreads its tentacles to Cele. It was interesting doing business with these people. In order to get the real gist, one had to open an account as the call requested. Meanwhile the account initial deposit is not what anybody can shy away from. It is just N500 and you have a savings account. I know you would wonder how you get all the requirements for the account opening. I wondered likewise, but my concerns were taken care of.

The package is an instant account that affords you your bank account immediately. You also get an ATM card with it. All come in a prepared white envelope that has letters inside stating the conditions and all information for the account. That also bears an account number and the ATM. Just give them N500 and you get a white envelope.

As you hand over this envelope to someone at the back of a Nissan Sunny salon car which is their office desk, you fill a form and the number contained in the envelope given you earlier becomes your account number instantly. They also immediately fill out a teller indicating how much you deposited and give you a duplicate copy. You have your account ready. Before you ask questions on how to send your passport to them, you are referred to one of them already lying in wait with a digital camera.

He aims at your face, clicks the shutter button, and shows you your face on the camera screen. 'Oga, the photo is free. You can go. We have completed the process and thank you for banking with us. You are free to do your banking in any of our branches and also use your ATM'. I think that sounds more than courteous and assuring for a business transacted at a Lagos bus stop.

In the course of observing and patronising this strange brand of banking, one had to ask questions on why Bank PHB decided to take to this bizarre approach. But the bankers don't see anything wrong with it. 'We are in the marketing and retail banking department and what we do here is part of our work'. Ask them if they are paid extra salary for baking in the sun, taking the noise, the danger and other inconveniences, they simply smile evasively and stop the discussion. But they would readily tell you that they possess the same qualification with those that carry out their banking in air-conditioned banking halls. 'We are graduates of course and were employed just like others.

I don't see anything bad being here', a lady who would not reveal her name obliged. The team is made of about eight persons spread out in all directions making their solicitations for patronage. Few carry umbrella over the head against the sun, while some don't give a care. Their inner office is the Nissan car. The top of the booth is their desk, and not even one person stays in the car as they all attack the market with fury to make the most out of it. The following day, after the initial encounter, the cars had doubled to two. That meant more daring young bankers fully charged for more returns. You only know them through their Bank PHB deep blue T-shirts on black trousers or skirts.

While still listening to the banker, another man eagerly jumped on one. 'Oga, I have something to show you. Please, hold this paper, after your discussion I will talk to you'. That was the charge of another bus stop banker from the Citiserve Microfinance Bank. As he squeezed the leaflet into one's palm, he walks away chancing other customers with the hope you will oblige him an audience later.

This set of bankers said they have a target by the directives of the employers. 'We have a target on the returns to make. So it is left to one to either stay at home, be in the office or anywhere to meet the target', one of them revealed. They would inform you that theirs involve daily, weekly or monthly savings with them. You save any amount you can afford, which is credited to the account. The account, according to them helps you to salt away money in bits to meet any financial target of your life.

With this new approach to banking, the lesson is that while taking up a job with a bank you should condition your mind to be anywhere to render your service. Never be taken aback if your banking duty takes you to the bus stop, under the bridge, the fruits dump, on the highway or in the banking hall.

Those that have their business around the noisy part of the city and have no chance to go to the banks have no excuse anymore not to do business with the bank as they have brought services to wherever they are.