It is Monday morning at one of the biggest banks in Rwanda’s capital Kigali.
Dozens of customers queue inside the banking hall. They are here for different services; such as withdrawing, depositing, loan application, among others.
Outside the bank, more customers with automated teller machine cards (ATM) line up to use the service.
Three men get out of the banking hall in a hurry – just like someone rushing for an appointment.
They are seeking a different service. One of the men asks the bank van driver at the parking yard; “Where can I find the restrooms?” he asks before the driver leads him the way.
You cannot find a labeled door that leads you to restrooms at this bank that has been here for so many years.
The only restrooms available at this bank’s headquarters and almost in its other countryside branches are for the bank’s staff – yet their daily assignment is to handle thousands of clients.
KT Press insisted and wanted to know whether there are no restrooms reserved for customers, one of the bank’s customer service officer leisurely responded: “The restrooms available are for our staff. But we are always very welcoming to customers asking for restrooms.”
A mini survey conducted by KT Press across 8 big financial institutions around the City of Kigali and their branches, discovered that the issue of ‘NO’ customer restrooms is common.
Inside the magnificent building of ECOBANK – Rwanda in Kigali Central Business district, there is no visible way to the restrooms.
Across the road in the famous ‘Car-Free Zone’ is Bank of Kigali Ltd – Rwanda’s biggest bank in terms of assets.
Inside the huge banking hall, the queue is hard to measure – both at the bank’s first and second floors that have more than 30 teller desks.
Inside the banking hall, Ivan Nyamuniga, a customer turns to the teller and asks: “where are the restrooms for customers?”
Immediately, the bank’s security guard intervenes and leads the customer to the restrooms ‘normally meant for the staff’.
To access BK’s restrooms, you need a guide. Otherwise it will require you to drop what you are doing and walk out to look for public restrooms either at the City Hall or neighboring building if you cannot confront bank staff for the service like Ivan Nyamuniga.
At I&M Bank, another financial institution with 16 branches around the country, officials told KT Press that there is no future plan to put in place restrooms for customers.
They also said the same as their competitors that they are always ready to share their private restrooms with customers ‘only if they asked for them.’
“There are no restrooms for our customers. But those seeking the service can always ask our staff to help them. We do this on the basis that most of them (customers) spend less time in the banking hall,” an I&M Bank official toldKT Press on condition of anonymity.
But will every customer be able to openly ask in public to have such a service? If so, how often can these banks bear offering the service given the number of clients visiting them every day?
For instance, at Bank of Kigali’s branch in Kagugu, Gasabo district, you need to go through three offices including the deputy manager’s office to access restrooms.
Customers not satisfied
This does not sound good for financial institutions to their ‘Esteemed’ customers (as they call them).
Indeed, their customers helped the financial institutions double their annual revenues last year and such milestones, suggest customers, should be seen in the mirror of the banks’ services.
Prosper Rugaba – a BK customer says, “Revenues that are being made by financial institutions should go with good services. Why would they take lack of restrooms for customers as a petty issue?”
Rugaba says he cannot ask for restrooms in a bank if they are not physically displayed near the banking halls.
For him, “I would rather go for a payable public toilet than going through this channel while at the bank. Banks should take this seriously. Restrooms are very important in every public building,” he says.
Rehema Uwamahoro, a lecturer at University of Rwanda and customer with one of the above financial institutions told KT Press that just like banks are providing other customer care services, restrooms should be given equal attention.
Uwamahoro says that normally customers spend long hours queuing at these banks waiting to be served.
“I think it is unfair for banks not to provide restrooms for their clients. It is just wrong to assume that clients won’t need to use washrooms while they wait to be served,” said Uwamahoro.
“Banks have made great strides in putting customer service at the forefront of their operations over the years but this very important issue also needs to be addressed in equal measure,” says Uwamahoro.
According to Maurice Toroitich, Banque Populaire du Rwanda – BPR Atlas Mara new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) there is no regulation prohibiting banks from providing public washrooms, it is only a matter of planning.
“There are no international standards that determine whether or not a bank should have restrooms meant for customers at their premises. My observation is that it all depends on whether the premises that a bank chooses to use for a banking hall can be modelled to accommodate restrooms for both customers and staff,” Toroitich told KT Press.
Toroitich who recently crossed to BPR after 8 years of service at Kenya Commercial Bank-Rwanda also as CEO said that in most modern buildings where banks have set up branches, landlords have made provision for shared rest rooms which are adequate for all visitors to any of the businesses in these modern buildings including banks.
“In that case there is no need for a bank to have separate rest rooms. Unfortunately in many cases, the buildings that banks rent for their branches are not adequately serviced with public rest rooms and banks have to contend with sharing available rest rooms between staff and customers,” he said.
“Sometimes, depending on the location of the rest rooms, it can compromise the internal security arrangements of a bank branch and therefore customers are asked to find rest rooms elsewhere.”
Toroitich hopes that with construction of modern branches and refurbishment of old ones, banks will take the matter of public toilets into consideration while renting premises.