LAGOS – Nigeria’s banking giant, Access Bank Plc, has explained why it has to sack part of its 75 per cent workforce, insisting that was the only way the bank could remain standing in the face of the current economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bank has come under intense criticisms from the public since a video was leaked on Thursday night, where the Group Managing Director, Herbert Wigwe, told the staff via Skype of a rash of measures, including reducing its workforce and taking pay cuts to ensure it survived the present harsh times.
The GMD, had said: “We probably don’t need as many securitymen as required, even to the fact that we are not going to have all our branches open between now and December. We don’t need all the tea girls. We don’t need all the cleaners. We don’t need all the tellers etcetera, etcetera.
“The second has to do with our professional cost. Now that is one that is very tricky and it is tricky because I do understand and appreciate that its gonna, you know, bring its own pain to staff. We basically have to make the adjustments the same way you sounded when we spoke 10 days ago with respect to basically cutting down cost.
“I will be the first to take the hit and I’m gonna take the largest pay cut, which would be as much as 40 percent. The rest we would have to cascade right through the institution. Everybody may have to make some adjustments of some sort.”
Regardless, Nigerians had come heavily against him, insisting this was no time to take such drastic measures that would further not only hit hard on the bank’s staff, but also have a negative spillover effect on the Nigerian economy by increasing its unemployment profile.
The critics had also accused the bank of being clever by half for donating a whopping N1billion to the Nigeria Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CA-COVID), the outfit being co-ordinated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to mobilise private funds to fight the COVID-19 scourge, at the same time it was sacking staff, wondering the rationale behind such double standards.
But the bank, which agreed that times were indeed hard, insists it has not done anything wrong in taking the decisions, saying though it was quite painful to toe such a line at the moment, it remained the only option if had to survive.
The bank also dismissed the allegation that in the current rationalisation exercise it was targeting staff of defunct Diamond Bank, which it absorbed after the two institutions merged in 2019, saying there was nothing like that.
Abdul Imoyo, spokesman of the bank, told Whirlwindnews.com that the position of the critics was fully understood, but such thinking must also be weighed against the backdrop of the reality on the ground, if the bottomline remained that there must be a bank to work in at the end of the day.
“Yes, we understand all those sentiments and management reviewed all of them before taking the decision. You know what is happening at the moment with the economy. Nobody was talking about this yesterday. It is the result of the current reality and the management must act in the interest to the bank so that it will keep standing. If there is no bank, you wouldn’t be talking about the workforce. That’s what we want to ensure”, he said.
Regarding targeting the former Diamond Bank staff, he said: “There is nothing like that. We don’t have Diamond Bank and Access Bank anymore. What we have is one bank, which is Access Bank and all our staff are Access Bank. We said at the beginning that no staff was going to be sacked and none has been sacked till date. If anybody left, it is either because the person did not meet up or the person did for other reasons.
“Try to find out the real reason, because in every institution there is a work culture and in Access Bank, there is a standard that is required of every staff, which they must have to meet after the periodic assessment. Did the staff score high in which case there is no problem or average in which case there is need for improvement or so low that a further retraining is required? These are the things that must be taken into context, but I can assure you that nobody is being targeted as a result of where they are coming from. We have only one bank.
“Besides, what we are talking about is not about our staff. No staff is going. Those we’re talking about are the outsourced staff. Because of the reality on the ground, we’re having a meeting with their parent companies to say, we may not need five people to do this, we now need two or three, give us the number that is now required. They may move the one that they have removed to another office altogether. In the end, it may even be that nobody would lose.
“Again, nothing says the situation would remain like this in the country. It may well appear that tomorrow the situation will improve drastically and there will be no need for anybody to go and they stay or those who are asked to go will return. Nothing is confirmed yet. It is just a proposal. All we are saying is that we must address the challenges arising from this crisis in the way that our bank keeps standing. That’s the ultimate goal.”