In the pre-independence days, most banking staff were European and Asian. Africans entered the industry in low and junior positions. In the years before the three banks operating in the colony used to bring in expatriate staff who were already trained and had gained experience at their banks’ headquarters in London, or in India. There was little facility for training local staff.
Barclays DCO was the first bank to set up a local training school in Nairobi sometime in the early 1950s. The training school, which was to serve the entire East Africa region, was necessitated by a pressing need to train competent local staff to cope with a rapidly expanding branch network. It was on the back of this training school that Barclays rapidly expanded operations in Kenya, culminating in the opening of its 100th branch in Kenya at Mandera in 1968. The following decade saw the bank start a new training scheme in conjunction with the Limuru Lay Training Centre.
The Barclays Bank training school would be followed by others. Standard Bank of South Africa opened a training college in Nairobi in 1958. Bank of India and Bank of Baroda opened a joint school in October 1969. Co-op Bank would later start its Co-operative Training College at Karen in Nairobi where also KCB’s sprawling Training and Development Centre was opened in 1991. Subsequently, most banks set up their own colleges.
In 1989 the banking training schools and colleges would be supplemented by the establishment in 1989 of the Kenya College of Accountancy by the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya which felt the country needed more well-trained. accountants. The training at the KCA was good enough to earn the institution private university status in 2007. Many of its graduates would end up working in the banking industry. So would many graduates of public and private universities and other institutions of higher learning such as the Kenya Institute of Bankers that offered courses in business, finance, commerce and economics.
The collapse of banks in the early 1980s prompted the Central Bank to set up the College of Banking and Finance in 1989 aimed at improving the standards of services offered by Kenyan banks. But the college never really took off due to lack of commitment from banks and non-bank financial institutions. Big banks insisted they did not need the college as they had well established colleges of their own and could also afford to send their staff for training abroad. The smaller banks and non-bank institutions, though receptive and in need of the college’s services, insisted they lacked the finances to sustain its operations.
Better cooperation between the Central Bank and commercial banks in the training field would come in 1994 when they joined in the setting up of the Kenya School of Monetary Studies which became registered with the Ministry of Education as a tertiary institution offering diploma and certificate courses. The Central Bank is the principal shareholder with 99% share and the remaining 1% held by and Treasury.
Training enough Africans to take over the banking industry took time. What took even longer is to get enough women to play a leading role in banking. From the coming of National Bank of India until the 1960s, banking in Kenya was predominantly a male enterprise. It was not until after independence that African women began to feature on the staff of many banks. Even then, they were mostly employed in junior positions such as cashiers, secretaries and receptionists.
On the whole, however, bank employment policies in general have affected the development of banking in the country. Relations between banks and their staff have been fairly cordial. This has been mainly due to the operations of the Kenya Bankers Association which was set up by eight banks namely: Barclays DCO, National Bank of India, Standard Bank, Bank of Baroda, Bank of India, Ottoman Bank, General Bank of the Netherlands and Habib Bank with P.E.D. Wilson as the first managing director/chairman. The Kenya Bankers Association looked after the interests of the banking industry including its relations with bank employees.
The first industrial dispute that the Kenya Bankers Association faced came in March 1965 when the Kenya Distributive and Commercial Workers Union called a strike of all bank staff over a number of differences with Association, the two main ones being the association’s attempt to block supervisory staff from joining the union; and the association’s decision to take a dispute over the Barclays Bank provident fund to the Supreme Court as opposed to the Industrial court. The disputes were amicably resolved.
The biggest confrontation between banks and their staff came on August 3rd 1998 when employees of all banks in Kenya started an industry wide strike that severely crippled banking operations in the country. And the employees’ grievances were not directed at anything the banks had done. The workers were protesting government plans to tax their low-interest loans as a benefit. They were also up in arms over the government’s introduction of a fringe benefit tax.
The strike persisted for five days despite government threats that it was illegal. It was only disrupted by the bomb blast at the American embassy in Nairobi on August 7th that year which killed more than 280 people and injured even more. Since then relations between the banking industry and its staff have been cordial, the staff returned to work so as not to worsen the public sentiment following the deadly terror attack.