A tough job

Aug 02 - 08, 2004





Contrary to the claims that the banking sector was facilitating the citizens at a massive scale for the payment of utility bills, the utility consumers have to go through painful exercise for paying utility bills every month.

The consumers may have to face even worse situation in the days to come as about two to three branches of banks are closing the counters for collection of utility bills in violation of the instructions by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

According to official figures, in Karachi there are 4.2 million subscribers of PTCL, electricity and gas who have to go through an indecent way for paying their utility bills every month. This is an additional punishment to the citizens besides bearing the agony of poor quality services provided by the telephone, power and gas companies to the consumers. This is because of the poor quality services of the electric and landline telephones that a large majority of bulk power consumers have set up their own captive power plants. According to an assessment, in Karachi industrial estates over 500 megawatt of power at their own. It is because of the poor services of the telephone departments that a phenomenal growth in cellular phone subscribers is being noticed all over the country.

I have been given a challenging job for improvement of banking services to the clients, on top of that one task is to remove the "utility bill collection counter as it is a nuisance," a senior manger of a private bank branch in Sidco Center situated near PIA reservation office told the PAGE with the request of unanimity. And only within one month's efforts, the very competent officer removed the counter. This cold and indifferent attitude towards collection of the utility bills might be one of the reasons of huge stuck up amount of the KESC on account of defaulters.

The State Bank orders bounds all the banks operating in the country that each and every branch will collect the utility bills and refusal would lead to cancellation of banking license.

The warning issued by the State Bank of Pakistan on September 4, 2000, to all the Chief Executives of NBP, HBL, UBL, ABL, MCB, First Women Bank Ltd., Bank of Punjab, Bank of Khyber under the title of "STREAMLINING THE PROCEDURE FOR COLLECTION OF UTILITY BILLS" says: "As you are aware, a Committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Mr. Javed Ahmad Noel, Honorary Adviser, Ministry of Finance to look into the issue of streamlining and simplifying the procedure for collection of utility bills. The Committee after extensive and prolonged deliberations on various issues involved has since submitted its report to the State Bank of Pakistan. The following recommendations requiring actions by the banks collecting utility bills have been made in the said report:



i) All branches should accept payment of bills of Rs.1000/- and above through cheques from their account holders. These cheques should be accepted at normal banking counters instead of windows designated for cash bill collection.

ii) Bill collection timings i.e. 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. should be prominently displayed at all the bank branches. Particulars of the nearest branch accepting bills up to 8:00 p.m. should also be displayed at every branch.

iii) Banks should publicize the fact that a bill can be paid at any branch of any bank collecting utility bills or the post office within a city/town. It does not have necessarily to be paid in a branch located closer to the billed premises. Moreover, public be advised to tender exact cash at the time of payment of bills to save their own and others' time.

iv) Banks and the post office department should work with large companies, corporations and government departments to evolve a system whereby the corporation/department can make arrangement for collection of bills through their own staff assisted by bank staff, prepare scrolls and deposit the same in lump sum with the bank branch or the post office.

v) The banks having ATM facility are allowed to enter into agreements with the utility companies for collection through ATM.

vi) Banks should streamline arrangements with the utility companies for payment of bills through Internet. Particulars of bank branches having Internet connections should be advertised in the media and on the websites of banks and the utility companies. Moreover, the collection of bills through Internet should be publicized and the public should be educated about the option of paying bills through Internet.

vii) The banks should adopt a system of internal monitoring on the following lines:

a) Every branch/unit collecting utility bills should send a monthly report by 10th of every month to the Zonal/Regional Office for onward submission to a focal point at Head Office of the bank giving details of number of bills collected during the month and the progress made towards time saving, queue reduction etc.

b) As part of the monthly feed back process, a committee will be formed in each branch/unit which will be made directly responsible for ensuring compliance to the laid down instructions, submission of the monthly reports and incorporating customer feed back therein.



c) A Comment Card in every branch/unit will be introduced whereby suggestions will be solicited from customers for further improving the service. The card will have a pre-paid stamp and will be addressed directly to the concerned senior executive/focal point responsible in Head Office.

d) Surprise checks by senior staff monitoring the work of utility bills collection shall be conducted.

In exercise of the powers vested in the State Bank of Pakistan under the Banking Companies Ordinance, 1962, you are hereby directed to implement the above recommendations in letter and spirit. Moreover, the compliance of instructions earlier issued on the subject from time to time should also be ensured. It may kindly be clearly noted that the State Bank will intensify surprise checks by its inspection teams to ensure meticulous compliance of this directive. Banks found violating the laid down instructions would be subjected to levy of penalty under the relevant provisions of BCO, 1962.

The State Bank of Pakistan, however, does not bother to monitor the quality of the services offered by the bank branches. The most glaring example of the lethargic attitude of the banks is indicated in dealing with the recently launched PPL shares subscription through the banks. The subscribers were dealt the cold attitude and after submitting the applications applicants are now being asked to find out the allotted number of their applications lying in the junk of the papers.