Aubyn Hill, financial Gleaner COLUMNIST
Many small businesses and individuals are feeling the late-payment pain, and large businesses are putting on the pressure by dragging out payment dates.
The fact that many hundreds of Jamaicans have lost their jobs in recent weeks, and others live in the uncertainty and fear of not knowing when the unemployment guillotine will fall on their position, have caused many to cut back severely on their spending in order to stretch their savings, if they are unemployed, and grow the maybe paltry nest eggs of the still employed workers.
This fear-and-caution-driven reduction in consumer spending, coupled with the quite elaborate removal of Jamaican dollars - about J$30 billion since the start of the year - from the Jamaican market by the Bank of Jamaica, means that money is very scarce.
Banks seem to be unable, in some cases, to find the requisite Jamaican dollars to fund local transactions of businesses and individuals, and as to finding foreign exchange, especially US dollars, banks are offering established businesses as little as US$1,000 per day.
The demand for increased amounts of foreign currency is fuelling the fall of the JMD and the weakening of the local currency fuels the demand for more US dollars.
The shortage of Jamaican and US dollars and the job uncertainty, plus the absence of a credible and clear economic road map for the country have combined to put a dent in business and consumer confidence.
Earlier this week, we were told at an official briefing by two private-sector bodies that business and consumer confidence is at their second-lowest recorded for the past 12 years.
All that bad news, uncertainty, fear and indefinite economic direction are putting pressure on businesses, workers and families, and causing many among these groups to be finding it difficult to pay their bills.
THRONG OF LATE PAYERS
It is well known in business circles that certain hotels take buying power and unfair - very delayed - payment advantage of many small Jamaican suppliers to their tourist properties.
That has been going on for quite a long time and the hardships ushered in with the 2013 IMF agreement had nothing to do with these sometimes inconsiderate payment policies adopted by these institutions.
Proprietors of quite a few businesses in the SME sector have been sharing their cash flow grief and pain with me.
Their financial pain occasioned by the unilateral decisions by some large retailers to grant themselves credit terms, often in excess of 120 days in certain cases, is threatening many to go out of business.
Some of these pressured business persons use some raw Jamaican language that, for this column, translates into 'unethical'.
The SME business owners say that executives at these retail firms tell them money is very tight and that they are not afraid to suggest that there are foreign alternatives available to their retail firms.
Naturally, albeit subjectively, and maybe more than a tad self-serving, these small business persons express the opinion that no matter what the economic condition or climate 'people affi eat food' and retailers sell a lot of food for cash.
The conclusion drawn by SME owners is that retailers are using their buying power in a contracting market to squeeze them, the 'small man'. And they voice their conclusions in less elegant language.
COURTESIES TAKE A BEATING
There are some places where customer service is still considered to be an important offering: National Land Agency on Charles Street, the Collector of Taxes at Constant Spring Road, NCB Private Bank, and Mario Machado's restaurant at the Liguanea Club are striving to meet a high standard of good customer service.
Then there are others that really need improvement.
Coming from the banking fraternity and knowing how banks in many overseas markets treat their clients, management of our local banks need to pay a lot more attention to the quality of service their staff offer customers.
Some banks put their customers through difficult obstacle courses to handle the simplest of transactions. Bank employees, according to some banks' customers, often behave as if they are employed to the Government and possess life-and-death powers.
They are often unresponsive and take far too long to make decisions.
The international money-laundering regime put quite severe strictures and procedural demands on banks handling cash and transfer transactions, however, the time it takes banks to make credit and other business decisions put off many customers and make the customer experience feel degraded.
The fact that there are relatively few banks in the local marketplace and the two big ones are very big compared to the others, customers have very little competitive alternative.
This is not an advocacy for more banks, nor is it against the considering of new licences for new banks.
Current bank customers feel that with the need to pay a fee for almost every service in banks, the special privilege banks have by virtue of holding deposit-taking licences, and given the considerable profits local banks make, the customer-service experience at banks needs to be improved significantly.
POOR BANK SERVICE
I am for banks making solid profits and also for our local banks to be much more responsive to their customers' needs and requests.
In these days of tough economic times and unattractive, to-be-avoided government securities, responsiveness on the part of local banks will also mean helping their clients, especially the small ones, to grow their businesses.
Banks will say they have always been doing that, but they will to do so more now that they have to make money away from government paper. Banks may need to outsource - locally, please - more of their non-core banking activities to help stimulate local businesses.
While some government agencies make some effort to serve the public agreeably and well, others appear to make no effort. In fact, they behave as it citizens (bureaucrats' clients) are there to bother them and should be removed forthwith. This is a very regrettable 'service' approach.
The Government is the biggest player in the economy and the biggest employer.
We need to have our brethren and sisters who work for the Government to see us, who are not employed by the government and its agencies, as "customers" and not as enemies.
Simple courtesies like returning telephone calls and responding to letters and requests of ordinary Jamaican people would be a major step forward.
Response time may be delayed, but in this time of fast responses via social media, the no-response approach is unacceptable.
Say what you may about Omar Davies, he always responds to his phone messages. The 'little people' say so. It is a fine courtesy, indeed.
Aubyn Hill is the CEO of Corporate Strategies Limited and was an international banker for more than 25 years.Email: email@example.comTwitter: @HillAubynFacebook: facebook.com/Corporate.Strategies