More convergence than divergence in media and banking

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Keynote Address: David Sseppuuya   

Uganda Bankers’ Association / Bank of Uganda Media Engagement in Partnership with African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME)

Sheraton Kampala Hotel, Wednesday, April 12, 2023

 A few years ago, when Barclays Bank announced that it would close shop in Uganda, there was a lot of disquiet. Barclays had been a part of the financial industry furniture for so long that it was considered immovable.

I was a two-time client of Barclays – holder of a current account in Kampala, and one I opened in the UK while studying in Britain 30 years ago. I had actually tried to access the UK account through Kampala but had been told that Barclays Bank (U) Ltd and Barclays Bank plc were two separate businesses, with little operational convergence. It was my little understanding of the concept of mergers and acquisitions that reassured me that Barclays closing shop in favour of ABSA posed no threat to my deposits nor to the Ugandan financial sector. Interrogating Barclays’ figures would show growth and justify home continent consolidation, and a little background research on ABSA would reveal a solid bank.

This anecdotal story raises two points for the financial sector and the media: (1) Knowledge, and (2) Experience or Understanding. Finding convergence would make the two industries happy.

Uganda Bankers’ Association Objectives:

  • Develop and maintain a code of ethics
  • Best banking practices (banking operations, customer relations, customer due diligence, maintaining bank secrecy, maintaining marketing and service agreements, operating payment services, providing lending services, offering saving and investment services, providing power of attorney services, receiving and processing customer feedback)
  • High-quality policy development initiatives and research
  • Collaboration with other agencies (local, regional, international including academia and media).

Media’s Role

  • Information: Providing facts to society to be better informed on important matters
  • Education: Criticism and debate to ensure that information is tested and examined from all points of view
  • Creating and shaping public opinion and strengthening society
  • Watchdog of society to protect public interest against malpractice and create public awareness
  • Correlation of parts in society

Media’s Knowledge Challenges

  • Being semi-literate in financial concepts and terminology
  • Intimidation by figures and data
  • Intimidation by financial industry specialists – (in 2008 financial crunch, Ugandan reportage of the global economic crisis was almost exclusively quoted by the Governor of the Bank of Uganda and the finance minister saying that the country would not be affected by the credit crunch. There was no independent media analysis of its likely effects. Yet Uganda is an import-leaning economy, with unfavourable terms of trade; relies on remittances from abroad; needs foreign direct investment [FDI] to stimulate investment; pines for tourist arrivals, and has a shilling that is not competitive on international currency markets). There was little interrogation
  • Identifying public relevance – information for specific audiences
  • Sifting parochial interest from public interest
  • Thinking we serve the financial industry
  • Speed of 24-hour news cycle
  • Increasing complexity

Banking’s Misgivings of Media

  • Stubborn, unwilling to publish/broadcast
  • Sloppy, careless (rendering million with six 0s and then an ‘m’; shs for $; confusing monetary policy for fiscal policy; KPMG called KGMP)
  • Sloppiness can cause run-on banks
  • Uninformed (little or no knowledge, e.g. trading of stock, contagion, recession)
  • Exaggeration: is it ‘fraud’ or ‘financial mismanagement’? Was it a ‘lie’ or an innocent mistake? Is it ‘corruption’ or just ‘irregularity’? Has the claimant/culprit been interviewed?
  • Misinformed: Global gold reserves – (Uganda $13 trillion?)

Banking’s Place

Banks have much going on: mortgages, credit cards, VAF (vehicle asset finance), unsecured loans, Treasury Bills and bonds, credit reference, and trading stock. When engaged media can help out, say on VAF, or explaining credit reference and processes of borrowing, or how mortgages work. As society watchdogs, media will also challenge say credit cards, unsecured loans, or wedding loans.

Commercial banks have many departments beyond saving and lending – Accounting/Finance; Administrative/Clerical; Credit/Lending; Customer Service; Enterprise Services/Facilities Management – brand maintenance; Human Resources; Information Technology; Investment Banking & Markets; Corporate banking; Retail banking; Mortgages.

Solutions

Independent thought and critical judgment must be cultivated, but only by being informed and knowledgeable. Educate yourself (use good reference material – Oxford Dictionary of Economics, Reuters Financial Glossary; read The Economist, TheEastAfrican; listen to Business Programmes – CNN, BBC).

Get context for each story and aim to create value; secure diverse views and background information (at the senior editorial level, engage with bank executives, and vice versa); provide proof and analysis.

Don’t be intimidated by figures – demystify them through stories of relevance, breaking them down with graphs, putting human faces behind them etc. Tell a story. Don’t just give numbers.

– Be honest. If you’re wrong, do apologise.

  • Be proactive. Don’t wait for handouts: interrogate handouts.

Responsibility

Financial Journalists Rules applying to financial journalism deal with market abuse, conflict of interest, and the general journalistic virtues of accuracy, truthfulness, fairness, and respect for privacy. Educate yourselves

Banks (remember media is the interface between banking halls and the general public) – educate media that banks do more than being repositories of savings and sources of borrowing. The typical commercial bank has many services – explore how media can enhance these ethically. Don’t bribe; don’t buy favours.

The two industries should study each other’s codes of ethics and general functionalities.

Next Christmas, don’t give media houses gift hampers of Blue Band margarine and cooking oil – provide books (Oxford Dictionary; Reuters Glossary of Financial Terminology). Offer a year’s subscription of The Economist.

Possibilities are many – just gain knowledge and understanding.


(The writer is the author, “Africa’s Industrialisation and Prosperity“. He is a former Editor-in-chief of The New Vision and former Executive Editor of Daily Monitor. He was Editor, of The Golden Odyssey, Bank of Uganda, 1966-2016;  Editor, of Celebrating 50 Years of Development Partnership, The World Bank and Uganda, 1963-2013; and  Editor, 50 Years of Development Partnership, The World Bank and the United Republic of Tanzania)

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