BANKING · ECONOMY · FINANCE

Access Bank makes a subtle u-turn on planned sack?_Femi Ehiabhi

Access Bank on Monday is hinging her planned suspension of operations in some of its branches across the country, to security concerns and regulatory directives by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The bank, however, said it would begin a phased reopening of such branches.

The confirmation was contained in a regulatory filing at the Nigerian Stock Exchange on Monday to clarify media reports about alleged plans to close over 300 of its branches in Nigeria and downsize about 75 per cent of its workforce.

In the filing, the bank said as a result of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which culminated in government lockdown in many parts of the country, the bank was compelled to suspend normal operations in some branches at different locations in line with the CBN directive.

Also, beyond compliance with regulatory directives, the bank said the decision was informed by the need to protect the health and safety of its customers and employees at vulnerable locations.

“At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, we suspended in-branch operations at different locations as directed by the CBN and in line with business continuity plans at vulnerable spots, whilst we continued to provide services through our alternative digital platforms,” the bank said.

The bank did not say how many of such branches were affected, although it acknowledged concerns raised by reports about the decision, especially among its employees, customers, shareholders and the general public.

Beyond the suspension of operations at the branches, the bank said it was yet to apply for nor obtain the approval of the CBN for the closure of any of its branches.

The closure of a bank branch, it explained, is an action that requires the approval of the CBN.

In line with the phased re-opening of the economy beginning May 4, 2020, the bank said it would be resuming normal services at the suspended in-branches in a programmed fashion to ensure the health and safety of its employees and customers were protected.

The Company Secretary, Sunday Ekwochi, said the programmed reopening in affected branches was necessary to provide relevant contingency to the overall bank operations should there be any incident arising from the pandemic.

Bearing in mind that the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic was not yet averted, Mr Ekwochi said, the bank would do all that is required to ensure the safety of all its branches in line with the protocol advised by the health authorities.

He urged the bank’s customers to leverage more of the digital channels for their transactions, to justify the significant investment made to ensure availability of service outlets throughout the crisis period and beyond.

On report about the bank’s plan to sack about 75 per cent of its workforce, Mr Ekwochi described it as “baseless and twisted speculation”, and “malicious and a distraction from a genuine and compassionate plan to protect our staff and help keep jobs in the unfolding macroeconomic environment.”

This contradicts the statement made by bank’s group Managing Director, Herbert Wigwe, in an online staff town hall meeting through video conference that his management was planning to dispense with about 75 per cent of the workforce due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Mr Wigwe said with the closure of the bank’s branches following the lockdown period, it would be difficult to keep all of its staff, including the security and other categories of staff.

“Based on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not expect that all our branches will be fully opened for in-branch services until later in the year. This has made it impossible for many of our outsourced workers to perform their duties as usual.

“Based on the above-mentioned circumstances, we have commenced engagement with various stakeholders with a view to ensuring that they provide the relevant services and optimum manpower as may be required by the Bank on an on-going basis.

“As we navigate the new normal occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, we wish to assure all our esteemed stakeholders that in our traditional manner the Bank will continue to ensure that its actions and decisions are guided by fairness, justice, equity and good conscience,” the bank said.

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