Liberians Frustrated over Poor Services at Commercial Banks, Lack of Money at ATMs


Monrovia – Slabert Stewart, like most Liberians, is finding it hard to get her own money out of her account these days. 

Report by Obediah Johnson, [email protected] & Selma Lomax, [email protected]

After making the rounds from one automated cash machine after the next, she had just had enough.

“I been here about 30 minutes now. And I am not even around the ATM machine,” Stewart lamented, standing at the back of the pile at the Ecobank on Ashmun Street ATM. “That’s what I have been doing since this morning; I’ve been coming from all the way to town to see whether I can be able to access my account, but no way. I was at 11th and 15th streets, the lines are just too long,” she says.

For Stewart, the search for her own cash has been a daily routine for more than seven months now. “This is not something that happens once; it happens every day. I am always frustrated because of this. It has been going on for more than seven (7) months now; for each time you put money in the bank, you can’t get it. They are shutting down other outlets we used to get money from.”

People queued in long lines waiting for their turn at the few working ATMs

Visits to the S. D. Cooper junction ATM to Sinkor, then Ashmun Street, Slabert came up short.

Ahead of the festive Christmas and New Year’s season, several clients of various commercial banks operating in Liberia are expressing similar frustration over the shortage of both Liberian and United States banknotes and poor services being rendered at those banking institutions.

Among them: Local and international entrepreneurs or traders, school owners, managers, marketers – or even parents trying to get some cash for daily spending.

At various banks toured Monday, many vented their anger as they pile long queues in the around buildings hosting commercial banks like displaced persons standing in queue to receive their rations.

No bank is faring better than the other  – Ecobank Liberia Limited (Ashmun street), Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) Ashmun Street, Global Bank Liberia Limited (Sinkor, 6th Street), International Bank Liberia Limited (IBLL), and the United Bank of Africa (UBA) on Broad Street in Monrovia, all have been experiencing high volumes of customers unable to get money out of their own accounts.

Most of the ATMs have been out of service

Some of the clients were also seen sitting on cushioned or aluminum benches or chairs awaiting to be served through the ATM machines or by tellers assigned at these banks.

Thirst, anger and disappointment were visible on the faces of most of the clients, while others busied themselves by playing games on their mobile phones, or engaging into political or social discussions just to help alleviate the stress of depositing or withdrawing their monies from the commercial banks.

“I been here about 30 minutes now. And I am not even around the ATM machine,” Stewart lamented, standing at the back of the pile at the Ecobank on Ashmun Street ATM. “That’s what I have been doing since this morning; I’ve been coming from all the way to town to see whether I can be able to access my account, but no way. I was at 11th and 15th streets, the lines are just too long.”

– Slabert Stewart, A client stranded at an ATM booth

Lack of adequate services

Many of the commercial banks lack adequate services to accord or amuse their customers or clients.

The lack of television at strategic places in these banks, customer friendly interactions between clients and bank workers, access to drinking water to allow their clients or customers quench their thirst, remain either scarce or absent at most commercial banks in Liberia.

Clients or customers are compelled to wait for several minutes just to urinate or defecate due to the scarcity of conducive bathrooms at these banking institutions.

Instead of easing the bulk of difficulties clients continue to encounter in withdrawing or depositing their monies, the look on the faces of most of the tellers speaks volume about the worsening situation.

Their lukewarm attitude and the lack of customer care services are forcing many to keep their monies in their homes, putting themselves at risk of armed robberies.

ATM machines intended to ease burdens associated with banking activities are either down, malfunctioning or out of cash in most areas they are installed.

An Ecobank client expresses his frustration over the lack of money in the ATM

Standing in long queue for hours

The unavailability of numerous tellers, lack of basic banking information, and the malfunctioning and out-of-cash ATM machines immensely contribute to the formation of long queues at these commercial banking institutions.

At times, between two (2) to three (3) tellers are seen working at various windows and desks, while spaces remain empty with no tellers seated to attend to clients.

During lunch time at some of these banking institutions, customers are either served by limited tellers or compelled to wait to be served by tellers who have completed their lunch.

ATM machines of some of these banking institutions remain visible in Monrovia and its environs, but the obtainability of cash from these machines remains quite difficult.

Clients have to visit several areas to withdraw their monies as a result of this situation. 

Out-of-Cash ATMs

Most of the ATM machines are cashless across Monrovia.

Clients or customers who drove long distances to withdraw monies from those machines are disappointed because of this.

At the Randall Street branch of Ecobank, four (4) ATM machines were available.

Out of the total number of ATMs, only one (1) was cash-functioning.

Clients were obliged to wait for several minutes when the only functional ATM ran out of cash.

“I used my husband ATM card to withdraw from the bank. I feel frustrated when I come and don’t keep money. So, what I normally do, is to only come here when there is an emergency,” Tete Kiazolu lamented to a reporter. 

And she was not alone. “I toured all of these ATM machines up to 12 last night. The only place I didn’t go was Mamba Point. There is no money in all of the machines,” an elderly man who refused to call his name stated.

The situation appears to be an age-old problem at most commercial banks in Liberia.

“I am still trying to access my money since last week Thursday. I can’t get my money. I went to the Central Bank in Sinkor, the line was longer than what is here right now. I think this is an abuse to the public. The services that these people are providing to us are very poor,” an aging lady who identified herself as Harriet wailed.

“For instance, if it is raining, we will stand in the rain just to get our money. We paid to access our money easily, but it’s not happening. Just to get my personal cash to buy gas, I have to stand here for two hours. It’s frustrating. I am not supposed to go through this,” she said.

Hall banking/ATM System similar

Commercial banks’ clients who registered for ATM services are also feeling the pinch as compared to regular clients.

ATM clients believed they also consumed more time as compare to the counterparts in carrying out their respective transactions.

According to them, the essence of the electronic banking system is to ease stress or burden associated with standing in long queues and spending hours to withdraw or deposit money, but the system in Liberia is far worse than other countries around the world.

“Standing and spending lot of time in line defeats the purpose of having an ATM. ATM is an automatic banking system, that is; you don’t want to stay long in the banking hall. While should money be deducted from us for ATM service and we are not benefitting from this service,” Mr. Andrew Roberts stated.

School owners’ frustration

The situation at these various commercial banks is also affecting smooth learning and teaching activities at various public and private schools in Liberia.

School owners have to consistently engage the bank to withdraw monies to pay their teachers and ensure the smooth operations of their respective institutions.

They are reportedly requested by tellers assigned at some of these commercial banks to withdraw their monies ‘bit by bit, because there is limited money at the bank’.

Teachers also abandoned the classrooms running after the withdrawal of their salaries from commercial banks. “Today is the 4th of November and my teachers have not taken pay yet. I came and the Teller told me that he can’t pay more than L$100,000. I don’t play with people labor, but the situation at the banks will force us to be keeping monies in our home beginning next year. To take my own money from the bank is a problem,” a woman who identified herself as Nancy Collins.

Everyday Song: ‘System Is Down’

Liberia’s commercial banking system has been characterized with ‘system down syndrome’ due to deliberate attempt by banking authorities to create artificial shortage of Liberian and United States bank notes, power outage, or poor internet connectivity.

‘System is down’ syndrome intensifies particularly during the festive season in Liberia.

Clients or others cannot withdraw monies from their respective accounts or funds sent to them by family members, loved ones or friends to celebrate the festive season at their own convenience, because of the consistent ‘system is down syndrome’ that is visible at various commercial banks in Liberia.

Due to the intensity of the stress, clients and others sometimes relax on the withdrawal of cash sent to them through Money Gram or Western Union until after the festive season.

“I live in Gbarnga. There is no Ecobank in Gbarnga. Sometimes we go Ganta. We paid high-earned money and sometimes, system is down. We worked very hard to put our money in the bank. I don’t think its fine for us to come here to work again, or for someone to tell us system is down. Our charges can increase or decrease based upon the tariff”, said Stanley Nyekpa

Risks associated with poor banking services

Clients are normally embarrassed by vulnerable persons, including those living with disabilities at many banking centers that host ATM machines.

Some of these clients unwillingly gave ‘handouts’ to people, particularly less fortunate Liberians, due to the severity of the embarrassment.

They are also exposed to harassment, or may likely be hijacked because of the openness or exposure of the ATM machines on the streets.

 “For example, I spent more than 40 minutes here now; if somebody is targeting me right now-this place is opened and people are watching. By the time I withdraw and take few steps, I can be hijacked. People are exposed here right now. They have flooded this place because, the ATM machines in other areas are not fed with cash,” an elderly man who refused to call his name stated.

Plea to CBL

Banking clients or customers are appealing to authorities of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to address the severe difficulties they continue to experience at various commercial banks in the country.

They want the CBL find the root cause of shortages of bank notes to establish whether or not authorities of these banking institutions are borrowing out enough monies to create artificial shortages of the bank notes to the detriment of their clients.

They called for a probe into services being portrayed by these banking institutions, but are not being adequately provided to customers.

 “CBL must hold talks with these banking institutions especially Ecobank. Is it that their capacity is overwhelmed because they have lot of customers? The CBL must be able to uncover the problem. Base on their own investigation, they will be able to find a solution,” an elderly man who spoke on condition of anonymity maintained.

Outside Monrovia, the situation is even worse.

The scarcity of cash in ATMs at various banks in Gbarnga has many scratching their heads.

Automated machines of both Eco Bank’s Passion branch and UBA at Cuttington University campus branch often are either empty or scene of students and residents of the county queuing for cash.

At a UBA ATM, Jeremiah McCauley, explains that he had waited in line for more than five hours but was unable to collect money to withdraw. “It’s unfortunate that we have very few banks in Gbarnga, and available ones are not fed with money in the ATMs.”

McCauley said he didn’t expect to be told by bank staff that there was no money in the ATM as many Liberians were complaining of an unhealthy economy with limited funds in circulation.

Amos Dormeyan, also a customer of UBA, said he had visited the bank for the past two weeks and there was no money in the ATM.  “It’s so disappointing that every time I come here to withdraw, no money. This is so regrettable,” he says.

Similarly, Deborah Siafa, a businesswoman and customer with Eco Bank, expressed disappointment at the bank’s failure to satisfy the quest of its customers who visit the ATM to withdraw money.

“I don’t know why other banks are finding it difficult to come and operate in Gbarnga. The available banks are not feeding their ATMs on regular basis.” Every time I come here, no money in the machine. This is disheartening.”