Bankers and clients are facing a greater risk of being infected with deadly Covid-19 for the curtailment of operating hours and workforce that has led to unprecedented crowds at bank branches.
Branches are operating from 10am to 12.30pm on working days from April 5 instead of usual 10am-4pm operation at an instruction the central bank made in line with a fresh lockdown imposed by the government to contain the spread of Covid-19.
All the clients are now gathering in branches in the two-and-a half-hour time to receive services due to cutting down the operation hours. The slow pace of service delivery because of the manpower curtail at the branches is also contributing the crowds.
As a result, clients are being forced to wait in queues in bank branches for a longer time increasing the risks of Covid-19 infections, said several bankers and clients.
During a visit to a number of branches of different banks in the capital, this correspondent found that clients were waiting in long queues, some for hours, for the services.
Some of them alleged that bank officials were taking long time to deliver services that were forcing them to stand in queues for a longer time.
It was also found that some branches of commercial banks were also forcing clients seeking services like dollar endorsement for going abroad, opening accounts, paying loan instalment, even for any simple information to stay in lines for hours.
"It is very disgusting... waiting for half an hour here for withdrawing money," said Rafiqul Islam who was standing in a long queue with a cheque at Bazme Quaderia branch of Sonali Bank at Nilkhet.
Rafiqul, a middle-aged man who does not know how to use debit cards, said he often withdraws money from this branch without standing in line but after the imposition of lockdown and limiting banking hours, he was facing difficulty to withdraw and deposit money.
Asaduzzaman had to wait for one and a half hours for dollar endorsement for travelling to the USA next week. “I am very upset ... if anyone needs such a long time just to complete endorsement, then what would you say.”
“Bangladesh Bank has given banks a guideline for operation during the lockdown and I think if banks follow it, they would not face any problem” said BB's chief spokesperson Md Serajul lslam.
He said that banks needs to devise a plan on how they manage their internal affairs to provide service to their clients safely.
Some top private bankers said it has become very difficult to ensure services as volume of work and pressure of clients have remained as usual but the workforce has been cut to almost half while operational hours by three and a half hours.
During the previous lockdown period when operation in almost all sectors had come to a standstill, Bangladesh Bank had asked banks to continue operation to ensure the flow of money in the economy, said a top official of Bank Asia.
The central bank has also asked banks to ensure other services such as disbursement of credits approved earlier, activities under different stimulus packages, payment of wages in different industrial areas, buying of export bills, loan approval and disbursements, he added.
Authorised dealers (AD) branches have been asked to operate for emergency foreign transactions.
“The central bank has reduced the banking hours by three and a half hours and the same time, we have been asked to continue operation with half manpower... imagine how we’re dealing with such a huge workload," questioned a high official of Mutual Trust Bank.
Seeking cooperation of clients for smooth running of banking operation, he said that banks are trying their best to ensure hassle-free services to their clients.
Bank officials said they have already taken steps to ensure safety of their employees and clients as well. In bank branches there are sanitising facilities, they said adding that officials are not providing services to clients wearing no mask.