Ramzan timings affect the bankers and the customers in different ways
As the month of Ramzan begins, there is a noticeable change in the daily routine of people. Bank timings are also reduced.
Do these reduced timings and the general indolence among the bank staff translate into problems for account holders and customers and loss of business for the banks? Are there ways to make up for the reduction in working hours and save customers from any hassle.
Ahmad, a senior executive with a foreign bank’s branch in Lahore, says Ramzan timings do not suit people, especially those who do cash dealings with the banks. Either they come to the banks to deposit money or get their cheques encashed.
"When you sleep late, you can’t wake up early and deal with the bank during this time. So practically, working hours for people who fast are further reduced." However, the first of Ramzan is a very hectic day for the bank staff that sits till late at night to deduct Zakat from the deposits of account holders.
Mian Farooq Kashif, a former banker, explains the situation is different in banks with a large number of account holders and those with small number of account holders, even if they have huge deposits. "In the former’s case, there can be a crowd of desperate customers trying to be served whereas in the latter’s case the staff can be seen relaxed and serving one or two people at a time."
He says the problems are mainly faced by ordinary individual customers whereas big account holders and the corporate sector are served round the clock, even at their doorsteps. There are no time restrictions for them.
The number of ATM withdrawals and online transactions increases during Ramzan. The remittances sent by expatriates also increase considerably because families need more money during this month and for eid preparations. On occasions, the ordeal one has to go through while moving from one dysfunctional ATM to the other can be cumbersome.
Ahmad thinks the business of banks is not affected due to these timings only. "It does for the reason there is an overall slowdown in the economic activity during the month," he adds. He says people postpone business decisions and major transactions to sometime after eid and there’s a boom mostly in food items throughout the month and clothing close to eid. "When there is less business there is less burden on the banks," he points out.
Arif Bhatti, an import manager with a knitwear unit in Lahore, differs with Ahmad and says "export businesses are not affected much, especially when the importers are non-Muslim countries like the US, UK and states in the European Union." The reduced timings during Ramzan "cause delay in delivery of export orders because you don’t have pay orders ready in time, electronic transfers and Letters of Credit (LC), etc are delayed", he adds.
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Khalid Usman, Chairman, Progressive Group in the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) says he has requested the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) "to revise the banks’ working hours from 10am to 4pm to facilitate individual customers as well as the business community".
He says business transactions mostly remain unattended due to small working hours. Usman says since the iftar time is around 7pm, the staff can easily reach home after closing the business at 4pm. "These are almost the same timings that were introduced when Ramzan would fall in winters and the sun would set around quarter past five. Timings should be adjusted according to the needs of today," he concludes.