Having spent almost two unproductive years at home after graduation, Evelyn was badly in need of a job.
After passing the aptitude test and first interview, she was pretty confident as she walked out of her second interview for a management trainee position at Access Bank.
But her confidence immediately atrophies like an ice cube thrown into a burning fire when she was told, over the telephone, by an official of the bank that she needed to source a total of N1 million from at least 10 new customers within a week as a prerequisite for being employed.
Her parents immediately kicked against her continuing with the recruitment process saying it was exploitative. But the thought of having to sit at home for an indefinite period in search of another job was far scarier for Evelyn. She was determined to meet the bank’s demand.
Hard as she tried, she could only get eight people to open new accounts with the bank. Two days later she got a call from the bank telling her she didn’t make the cut.
“In Access Bank it has to be ten over ten or nothing,” the voice at the other end of the phone said. Evelyn was devastated. She felt used and dumped. “After the second interview, I thought I already had the job,” she said.
In fact she was called for the third interview, which is usually a formality, according to an Access Bank source.
John, another applicant, said he didn’t feel comfortable raising N1 million as a prerequisite for employment.
“I remembered telling myself this was nonsense. Why would they ask me to get N1 million before I was employed? I didn’t even bother to try.”
Some of applicants said the bank gave them ten account-opening booklets each carrying Access Bank employee numbers for this purpose.
“When I say the employee numbers on the account-opening booklet, I was confused. Does it mean that I’m running around for someone else to take the credit,” wondered another applicant who raised N900,000.00 and was not employed.
Evelyn, who said she is now doing what she described as her dream job, told PREMIUM TIMES one of those who opened an account with her went through a lot of hassles when she tried to withdraw the money she deposited.
“She wasn’t given a debit card or chequebook. They kept telling her at the branch that they have issues with her account when she went to withdraw the money she deposited. After paying several visits to the branch over three months she could only manage to withdraw part of the money she deposited.”
Access Bank says the practise of asking applicants to generate N1 million within one week is to prepare them for “the rigour of the highly competitive market.”
The bank’s Head of Corporate Affairs, Segun Fafore, says only candidates that have passed the entry requirement are asked to raise this amount.
“It is part of the training. It is part of the recruitment process. This person will certainly go to the training school. It is just the practical aspect before you go for the four months training programme,” he said.
However, none of those who spoke to this paper were called to resume at the bank’s training school. Despite excelling at all the pre-recruitment evaluations, they were specifically rejected because they raised less than the N1 million asked by the bank.
Access Bank has been courting controversies for some time now due to some of its recruitment practices. In what is a blatant disregard of the country’s labour laws, the bank makes new employees sign bonds that force them to stay in the bank’s employ willy-nilly for at least two years.
Access Bank says it does this to protect the “heavy investment” it makes in training its staff. It says due to the quality of training its staff get they are usually poached by both local and international firms.
“The bank invest heavily in building the competence and capacity of its staff to a level of admiration that matches what is available in the global financial community,” Mr Fafore says.
“Following market tendencies, it is not surprising that with this kind of investment in its people other institutions, financial and non-financial, within and outside Nigeria encroach on the bank’s School of Banking Excellence.”
Mr Fafore says the bank designed its employment contract to “stem the tide” of employee poaching.
Alarmed, Lagos lawyer and frontline human rights advocate, Jiti Ogunye, describes the practice as “shady, irresponsible and illegal.”
“From employment and banking perspective it was illegal for the bank to compel people who are not employees of the bank to discharge banking duties,” he said.
“Having compelled these applicants to go and be scouting for customers for them as a condition of being offered employment, a relationship of implied agency has crystallised between the bank on one hand and those prospective employees. So the bank has made them her agent by sending them out to go and bring customers so the question there is if the bank had made these people her agent how did the bank remunerate them at the end of the day?
It flies in the face of constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens. A bank is expected to be a repository of integrity. This is nothing but obtaining property by false pretence. This is nothing but fraud.”
Obituaries and epitaphs
Allegations of malpractices and abuses have dogged recruitment processes and staff training in the Nigerian banking sector. For instance in 2011, a group of Guaranty Trust Bank’s entry level trainees were expelled on the last day of training for what the bank described as “[contravening] several basic programme rules that include professional conduct.”
But several members of Sapphire, as the class was nicknamed, said the consultant instructor during the training, Tutu Sholeye of Learners and Trainers, traumatised the group with an unending string of vile comments, verbal abuse and attack on their self-esteem.
They told this paper that they were asked to write their obituaries and epitaphs as part of the training regime.
“We were shocked when she told us to write our obituaries and epitaphs. And it didn’t end there; whatever you wrote will be used as an excuse to rain more insults on you,” said Taye, still visibly angry two years after the experience.
For instance, a trainee who smokes and had indicated to live up to 85 years in his obituary was told by the trainer: “how do you expect to live that long with the worthless life you’re living?”
Learners and Trainers website says it focuses on the “attitude training and personal development” rather than focus on “skills and knowledge training.”
Ms Sholeye declined to speak with PREMIUM TIMES. She said as a consultant, it was unprofessional for her to speak about what happened during the training.
Peter Ogunnubi, a psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, says this style of training is “archaic and barbaric.”
“It is a form of mental torture that can lead to post-traumatic and personality disorder.” He says this is even more so because the trainees didn’t get the job.
Guaranty Trust Bank says this approach to staff training has brought out the best in its employees.
“The curriculum adopted for the training programme which all employees must undertake, has been in use for the same period and you will no doubt agree with me that our Bank has the finest, most professional and knowledgeable human capital in the country today,” says Pascal Or, the bank’s official in charge of Brand Management.
Those wronged by unfair recruitment may have to look further from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, if they hoped to get succour for the wrong done to them.
CBN Director of Corporate Communications, Ugochukwu Okoroafor, says the CBN cannot act on hearsay.
“Please note that the allegations have not come to our attention with concrete evidence. This is necessary to enable us take action,” he said.
“There is nothing the CBN can do on the basis of mere hearsay, other than moral suasion,” he added.
Mr Okoroafor, says the CBN prohibits profit and liability targeting by banks and other unethical practices.
“Unfortunately, these are not things you can pick up from financial records when conducting bank examinations. Neither can interviews with Bank Management or staff reveal them.”
However Mr Okoroafor said the bank encourages whistleblowers to come with names, dates and evidence of malpractices.
*** The names of the bank informants in this story have been changed to protect their identities. All of them still work with different banks in the country and fear they might be victimised by their employers.