Entry #67 – The Banker’s diet

Gone are the days when I used to enjoy the luxury of living only 15mins away from my office. I would wake up at 7.00am, take a shower before leaving my flat at 7.15, and then I’d be in my office by 7.30am (resumption time). With my new job I live about 1hr away…when there’s no traffic, but 3hrs when I’m on my way back home during rush hour. A couple of things have suffered with this recent change: My biceps and triceps got smaller; my alarm clock and I are no longer on speaking terms;  my blog developed cobwebs; and more importantly, I have developed an eating disorder…well, let’s just say I don’t eat in any particular order anymore.

3-square meals are usually the norm when it comes to daily food consumption. However, the diet of the average banker in Lagos is rather different. Most bachelors eat at least twice a day – one outdoor meal from the local canteen and a home-cooked meal. Married men however may eat just one heavy meal at night since its in their best interest not to piss their wives off. The result? Pot belly.  I currently fall into the bachelor category (phew!) but dare I say the content of my meals may raise a few eyebrows:

Morning – Rice, beans and plantain (as early as 8.30am!)

Afternoon – A sausage roll (The Superbite brand)

In between – Fried Yam with pepper sauce, plantain chips

Evening – Bowl of cereal and/or a packet of noodles (Indomie Chicken flavour, of course)

I am well aware of the fact that this diet (eaten 5days a week) is not a balanced diet. It is a banker’s diet. Once in a while I throw in the odd stewed vegetables and an apple with some almonds but generally there’s little time to eat. Eating outdoors all the time is very risky. Bankers in Lagos could probably tell you a few of their food-poisoning stories. There have been instances of stooling and even Typhoid inflicted on unsuspecting bankers who patronized canteens with suspicious water supplies. The cost of such food is part of the allure. At 100 Naira (less than 50 pence/75 cents) you could have a meal of rice or beans that could keep you going for the next 4hrs. And don’t get me started on the inevitable addiction to energy drinks loaded with abnormal amounts of caffeine. Coffee is so 80s now…

I’m trying to find the balance I once had so I’m faced with 3 choices – Get yet another job and location OR Get familiar with just one outdoor meal source and stick to it OR Get married! (at least the fear of getting a pot belly would probably encourage me to do more exercise, which would equally restore my biceps and triceps to their former glory :D)

Entry #47 – Remember September

chaseWell how can I forget September 2008 when my bank was having its financial year end (which in the Nigerian Banking industry means every bank starts to scramble around for large money deposits in order to claim the no.1 spot for having the largest liability base…the grand prize being that you get to keep your job!).

I remember how fellow colleagues would genuinely fall ill with stress, some with high blood pressure, and why? All because they got SMS/text messages at odd hours of the day (including weekends) from bosses who taunt them to AGGRESSIVELY PURSUE current accounts and fixed term deposits or to REALIZE GROWTH in their account portfolio. I remember when each week would be inundated with impromptu meetings – meetings with other bank branches’ marketing team and their respective managers. Such gruelling sessions were like the ‘Show and Tell’ in Elementary/Primary School…only, you were showing to the whole audience how you planned to leap from a balance sheet of N100m (One Hundred Million Naira) to N250m in under 3weeks. I remember the tall tales marketing staff used to tell…stories of fat cheques that were due the following week…and then the following week…and then the following week. I remember how they had to defend their jobs by justifying why they should still be paid their salary.

I remember how the boldest and most confident of marketers would suddenly be reduced to a bucket of nerves as they stuttered through their cock and bull Deposit Mobilization strategies. Of course their bosses were quick to ridicule and threaten them with a letter of displeasure – that’s a prelude to a sack, in simple English. I remember how some marketers avoided the subsequent meetings especially when the millions they promised the previous week never materialized. Oh, how I remember how some banks would accept to pay to willing Fixed Deposit customers outrageous rates well above that of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and in some cases staff would make up the interest difference from their own personal funds to pay to the oblivious, greedy customer. I remember the pressure got so much that you could cut the tension in bank branches with a knife. You were almost driven to the point of holding customers at gunpoint just so they took you more seriously and coughed out the millions that we so stupidly thought they were hiding at home under their matresses.

I remember how some marketing staff would encourage their known customers to move funds from competitor banks into ours. Even worse was when a branch within the bank moved funds from another bank branch, meaning the bank as a whole wasn’t actually growing but suffering a bout of indigestible cannibalization of accounts. I remember hearing stories of female marketers who would ‘stoop so low’ just to get a measly million into their account portfolio…and in some unfortuante cases were given dud cheques: a classic Lose-Lose situation.

I remember how the month would draaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaag and your demanour was truly tested. Some who couldn’t take the heat or the humiliation any longer dropped their resignation letters and stayed at home waiting for the grass to get greener somewhere else…anywhere else. I remember how some skilled marketers would turn on the waterworks when a customer came into the branch to make a portfolio-shattering withdrawal in this ’ember’ month. I remember how I almost uttered to my superior ‘What are YOU doing to ensure that we grow our deposit base? Show me YOUR prospect list! How much money have YOU brought today? How many phone calls have YOU made? Why should the bank still be paying YOUR salary???’ I remember it all too well and now I have another 13days to go before I can even begin to forget September 2009. “Lord, give me strength…”

Entry #44 – Sanusi and the Half-Wit MDs

Iron Man

Iron Man

The hottest news that is sweeping the country (Nigeria) right now is the recent sacking of 5 Managing Directors by the governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Yes, the end was nigh for the fraudulent five on 14th August 2009 at a monthly meeting held in Abuja. I like to think of the whole ordeal as something straight out of The Apprentice…with Sanusi staring down at the MDs through his spectacles sternly and then shouting and pointing suddenly going, ‘ YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU AAAAAND ESPECIALLY YOU WITH THE PRIVATE JET..YOU’RE ALL FIRED! NOW GET THE F*** OUT OF MY OFFICE!!!’

Did those MDs see this coming? (Doubt it). Did those MDs deserve this? (Hell yeah!) Does anyone disagree with Sanusi’s actions? (Who the bloody hell cares? Its too late crying over spilt milk anyway). The banks in question were amongst 10 that were ‘stress’ tested to see whether, put simply, they would be able to pay up if per chance all their respective customers were to demand for their money all at once. Those banks are off the Nigerian stockmarket for obvious reasons.Meanwhile, there’s another 14 banks left to be tested so there’ll be a lot of fingernail clippings in the waste-bins of those MDs.

A Nigerian newspaper disclosed that there were hints of further shake-ups in the banking industry. Customers and bankers alike are all kind of anxious to know what other possible ‘executions’ lie in wait. I’m more interested in knowing whether Sanusi will eventually end this never-ending deposit mobilization drive aka corporate begging – which pretty much entails bankers who run around the streets literally begging customers to open accounts with them and/or fund the accounts.  Such bankers (or ‘marketers’) have been taunted by their immediate bosses to get funds in at all costs. Marketers are losing sleep, falling ill, working late, paying money to cover shortfalls in promises of ridiculously high interest rates, snatching accounts from within their bank’s network, etc all in a bid to beat the pressure and stay in the job.

Sanusi may be our last hope. He appears not to be worried about taking difficult decsions and he seems to want to get Nigeria back into full gear – he just injected N400billion to jumpstart the economy. The audacious CBN governor is akin to a Nigerian Harry Potter who has succeeded in proving that he has a few tricks up his sleeve…and by the look of things, he’s just getting warmed up…

F.E.A.R (contd.)

…Maybe it was the Bad cop’s AC that was malfunctioning or the prospect of having to (effectively) sign my life away. But whatever it was, that heat was hotter than N1000 Suya consumed at 12noon inside a jam-packed Moluwe…in stand-still traffic.

Where’s a lawyer when you need one? I had practised all damn night for this interview and even went online to study common interview questions. I was now in a 1-2-1 situation with a guy who invariably wanted to do a 1-8-7 on my 4-1-9, lying ass. There was no way I was going to commit to bringing N200m during my 6 month-probation! Even armed robbers were not making that kind of salary, were they?

In those last few seconds, as I stared at the contract and the BIC biro lying next to the dotted lines, I imagined what my life would be like on a daily basis – it sure beat any scary movie I’VE ever seen! You wake up in the morning…stressed. Drive to work…stressed. Sit at your desk…mega-stressed because you sure aint going to get N200m just by staring at your laptop. You shudder at the mere sight of your boss because you know what’s coming next: ‘T’! How much have you brought??? – Thats how your boss responds each time you say ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’, ‘Good evening’ or just when he sees you in the office and not outside begging marketing. I snapped out of my daydream. This is not how my life would end, I thought. What would the conman in Thomas Crown Affair do? I had to think and think sharpish. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks (EUREKA!)

Me: Wait, I still have another interview with your Regional Director so maybe after…
BC: It doesn’t matter. Just sign.
Me: But what if… he gives me a higher target? (giving my ‘I told you so’ facial expression)
BC (Ponders) Ok, when you finish come back and see me.
Me: Phew! (I think I’m going to be sick…)

I went across to the RD’s office and to my surprise the interview, just like the AC, was pretty cool. He didn’t mention anything about ridiculous financial targets or death warrants commitment agreements. We had a nice chat about the responsibilities in the new role and how I was expected to drive my end of the business – consumer products of the electronic variety. At the end of the interview I timidly asked if I had to see anyone else (knowing full well that Bad cop said I should see him when I’m done).

RD: No, our HR will get in touch with you soon.
Me: (In my mind, yaaay!) Thank you.

Now it was time for the hard part – my getaway. You see, there was only one staircase that led downstairs but it was right by the Bad cop’s office. The office had large windows so I knew he would see me if I tried to bypass him. I wish I could say that I summoned about 20 other guys who dressed like me and had agreed for us to all wear bowler hats to confuse Bad cop (Thomas Crown Affair) but sadly, I’m not that well connected. Instead, I waited in a corner and took a deep breath…then I walked past…head down, really fast.

BC: (Door opens) Wait! …Hey-ssssssss! …wait! ….Oga! Abeg, help me call that man…Wait! …ssssssss!!!

As I exited the building with supposedly deaf ears I looked across to my dad’s driver who was parked near the bank’s gate. As I began to jog to the car I prompted him to start the engine (just in case Bad cop was making his way behind me). The driver must have been thinking 1 of 2 things when I jumped in shouting, ‘GO-GO-GO-GO!’ – Either I had come to the wrong bank and was late for my interview elsewhere OR I had just stolen millions (ahead of my intended target). We fled the scene and like Sodom & Gomorrah I didn’t dare look back.

About 2 weeks later I received a letter from that bank. I opened it, prayerfully, hoping it wasn’t one of those ‘Unfortunately…’ letters. I breezed through the first paragraph which was purely introductory. By the time I skipped to the second paragraph and read just 4 words, ‘We are happy to…’ I went ballistic. I vaguely remember popping open a bottle of wine after going through my remuneration package and jubilating with my family. Everything conveyed in my offer letter was more than satisfactory. I still did about 3 detailed searches on the letter for any dotted lines linked to the dreaded ‘commitment agreements’ until I was absolutely certain that there was no hidden catch.

Consequently I accepted the offer. I was to resume in March 2007, allowing me enough time to get myself together with regards freighting my stuff, evading gym and internet subscription payments, applying for last minute UK loans, a last glance at the Red Light District, etc. I was looking forward to grabbing this unique job opportunity by the neck and asking it ‘Who’s your daddy, b**ch?’ I had faced my fear and God rewarded me with my F.E.A.R.
…In 2009, however, I have come to terms with a new fear…

 

F.E.A.R.S – Finding Eligible And Religious Spouse

The saga continues… 

..xTx…

F.E.A.R

Of all the fears in the world there’s only one I dreaded the most. It was not bankruptcy, failure, death, a terrorist attack or even the future invasion of flying cockroaches. The only thing I really feared when I left London and arrived in Lagos (Dec, 2006) was my F.E.A.R (First Employment After Return).

On boarding the Emirate flight from Heathrow I experienced worrisome levels of anxiety. I was fidgeting and twitching like a drug addict looking for his last Ecstasy pill – I was a nervous wreck. As I fastened my seatbelt I only watched the air steward’s safety demo so that I could pinpoint the location of the nearest emergency exit…and make a desperate run for it.

It was a long shot, I thought: Quitting my banking job, abandoning my friends, clubs, bars, restaurants, gym, constant electricity supply, and all for what? A chance to settle down in my motherland and make my own little impact, that’s what. I guess the initial panic I encountered stemmed from the subconscious comparisons I was making – McDonald’s…Mr. Biggs, Quaker’s Oat-So-Simple…Golden Morn, Oxford Street…Shoprite, London Energy…Bi-monthly electricity supply, British Gas…Half-empty Gas cylinder, Starbucks…Nescafe + Three Crowns milk, HMV…Street Hawkers, …etc. Some passengers around me were praying so I prayed too. Sadly my prayer wasn’t answered – the plane still took off.

‘There goes my emergency escape plan’, I thought. I sat back and meditated during the long flight, trying to reassure myself that everything would work out for the best. Once I landed it seemed peculiar that I initially boarded alone but on getting off there was 3 of us: The Optimist, Me and the Pessimist. It was a struggle, bumping into each other amidst the luggage. But soon after checking out of Murtala Muhammed Airport I felt really positive with my return. The Optimist and I got into a car-hire and drove to the family home (I had earlier handed over the Pessimist to Immigrations…no bribe required).

Back at home, my dad had arranged a couple of meetings through some of his clients in the banking world. He had handed the baton over to me and the rest of the race was mine to win. Damn those bank interviews! One of them was actually an Endurance test – at least that was all I stuck around for. After an exhausting bench-warming marathon, despite being told to come for interview at 10am, I got up and just walked out. I gained nothing. Instead I lost 3 strands of scalp hair, 5hrs of Nintendo gaming time, and both my ego and my ‘yansh’ were deflated. That bank called 1.10pm to tell me that ‘the panel’ was ready to see me. I remember hissing though it wasn’t meant out loud.

The other bank I went to for interview gave me a more interesting experience. It was the ol’ Good cop-Bad cop routine (with a Naija twist of course). I walked into the good cop’s office, suited and booted, only to be asked 2 questions: ‘What do you have to offer?’ (Pretty normal question) and ‘Why on earth would you want to come back and work in Nigeria?’ (Wetin consign you sef!). Notwithstanding, I answered. He scribbled. I gave him my best smile. He gave me a squinted look then he scribbled some more. Note to self – No more Eddie Murphy smiles.

The Bad cop held true to the title. He made me wait 30mins in his (Prison cell-sized) office. Well if your office was half the size of the Good cop’s then you’d be mean too. Anyway, being mean is still better. This guy was brutal:

BC: What is your CABAL size?
Me: I beg your pardon sir?
BC: Ah-ah! Your CABAL in your last banking job?
Me: Sorry sir but could you please explain what you mean by ‘CABAL’?
BC: Ah-ah!?…(looks at my cv) Oh ok, you worked in LONDON, I see. So, what was the volume on the accounts you managed? Give me the naira equivalent.
Me: I don’t have the exact figure…but it was a lot.
BC: How won’t you know? You should know! It is your responsibility!
Me: Okaaay…?!@#
BC: So how much are you committing to bring to this bank?
Me: ‘Committing’ sir?
BC: Eh-now…give me a figure.
Me: (2-minute silence) what figure is reasonable sir?
BC: (Laughs) you should be the one to tell me. What level are you applying for?
Me: SBO (Senior Banking Officer)
BC: So you should be able to do at least N200m…that’s even too small, but you just arrived, abi?
Me: (Gulp followed by adjusting my neck-tie for air supply) Y…….es.
BC: So how are you going to achieve this N200m target?
Me: Er…I…have…connections…
BC: eEEehn! Like who? (Gets out his pen and opens his diary/notepad)
Me: I have like 5 top clients, Nigerians, whom are planning to move their accounts to Nigeria (bullshit). They have thousands of pounds (more bullshit). They also know contacts that I can speak to in order to get more funds for the bank (…bullshit overload).
BC: Mm-hmm. (Scribbles) So you should be able to bring N100m within 3months, eh?
Me: I…should be able…to do that, sir.
BC: Whats the problem? Are you okay?
Me: Nothing…Is it hot in here?
BC: No. You’re just not used to Nigerian heat yet. Sign here…
Me: Er…Sign what?
BC: Your commitment agreement.
Me: (In my mind, ‘F**********K!!!’)

To be continued…

..xTx..