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Why a payslip separates you and me

By TANIA NGIMA | July 22nd 2014

The day you give up your pay slip could very well be the day that you become a nonentity. In the eyes of commercial banks, at least.

Of all the nuggets of wisdom I have heard dispensed about venturing into the unknown, aka entrepreneurship, none has proved to be more apt than what a friend told me about how difficult commercial institutions find it to categorise you when you no longer have a payslip.

For the last two and a half decades of my life, I followed 'the script'.

You know, the one where your life plan includes going to school, getting great grades, following it up with college, a good job where you keep your head to your desk, rise up the ranks and continue to draw the one most important thing that makes you completely relevant to society.

A pay package at the end of the month.

I scoffed, politely of course, at my peers who decided to chart their own paths and at struggling start-ups. The comfort that being behind the desk of my corner office, knowing that that healthy bank balance (the firm's, not mine) meant I would always have a roof over my head and food on the table was all I needed to re-affirm that I had 'done things right'.

In fact, I once labelled myself as risk averse, declaring I was one of those types that would never go into business, I was just meant to be employed for all eternity. And then life happened.

In between realising that I was craving more freedom, more dynamism and less concerned with fitting into a neat little box labelled 'employee', I jumped.

And I fell into the bank branch manager's office, in between the box labelled 'pay slip' and 'established business with a track record'.

The box I fell into was blank. It was kind of hard to define me. I was a start-up, so I did not have a track record. My idea was new and novel so I could not be categorised with other similar businesses. Simply put, I did not fit into any box, which made me a sort of anomaly.

And apparently, people do not put their institutions' money into anomalies.

I can empathise with the dilemma that the banks are facing when it comes to availing financing to unsalaried staff. But that is as far as I am willing to go.

I refuse to condone it because, come on, you have survived for far too long without being innovative and it's going to come back and bite you where it hurts most.

Unless you have been living under an inordinately large rock, you have seen the research and reports that have been in the media urging and promoting entrepreneurship.

According to a survey that was published about a month ago across a spectrum of both employed and self-employed youth, 100 per cent of the employed respondents said they were keen to start their own business in the future.

It is also said that entrepreneurs reach their life aspirations much faster than their counterparts, and they make more money overall.

Of course, while there are some instances in which entrepreneurship is glamourised, the actual back breaking work is nothing close to glamour and neither is the process of dealing with failure, self-doubt and a myriad of other low points.

Which brings me back to the banking industry.

Yes, we understand that you need to cover your risks. We also understand that the reasons your spreads are so high, or so you claim, are not purely driven by the attraction to super-normal profits, but by other factors such as the complexity of liquidating defaulters' assets and the risks of default.

The former is in no way the responsibility of the borrower, it is your responsibility to lobby your regulators and the justice system to create acceptable parameters, not to punish the borrowers with high lending rates.

What about the risks of default?

These are very valid. However, from where I sit 90 per cent of the very fragmented banking industry makes no effort to research, understand the 'unsalaried' populace they are serving or engage in any sort of innovation.

Given that there is great opportunity with the high unemployment rates coupled with a burgeoning youth population that is thinking more and more out of the box, you can only ignore this demographic at your own risk.

In the US and the UK, the banking and financial industry faces public animosity and is often portrayed as no longer trustworthy or of demonstrating social good.

'Banker-bashing' is a cultural pastime.

While the ills that the Western financial services industry is castigated for are probably far deeper than here at home, the premise remains the same. Once you alienate or ignore potential or existing clientele, it is unlikely that when they reach their true potential in the future they will forgive or forget.

My uncategorised box and I are making another gander into the bank next week. Wish me luck.

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