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Banks frustrating growth of e-payments, say customers

By Chijioke Nelson, Asst. Editor, Finance/Economy and Ngozi Egenuka
31 December 2018   |   4:28 am
A small scale dry cleaning operator, based in Festac Town, Mitchell Akpan, was lamenting how he has lost confidence in transacting on Point of Sale (PoS) terminal, as well as transferring money at the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) points.

Top banks, players involved in resolution mess
A small scale dry cleaning operator, based in Festac Town, Mitchell Akpan, was lamenting how he has lost confidence in transacting on Point of Sale (PoS) terminal, as well as transferring money at the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) points.He is one of the frustrated banks’ customers and his worries were not much about the uncertainty surrounding the success of any transaction, but how he will get his value back, recounting one year old unsuccessful transfer that never reached its destination and neither reversed till date.

“It is not about introducing multiples of electronic products. It is the willpower to sort out the ensuing challenges, which would give customers more confidence to accept what you have to offer,” he said.The nation’s banking sector, at the height of uncertainties, with high dose of non-performing loans; riddled with challenges of meeting the foreign obligations; reeling in pains from a stripped status of public sector banking; and sudden rush for competitive retail banking proposition as an alternative to public sector banking, evolved several electronic products.

Of course, as a survival strategy, banks redoubled their instinct for multiple charges against customers in the face of dwindling opportunities and income, which subsists till now. It is as real as charging for opening an account in the name of “Account Maintenance Fee”, with associated Value Added Tax. There is also Card Maintenance Fee and VAT, among others. But these are still not the worries for customers.

But, in what looks like Nigerians are now less concerned about the multiple charges, banks, during the year, though commended for innovative approaches to banking, frustrated many customers, whose electronic transactions were not successful, investigations have revealed.

The Guardian’s survey of perception of the electronic channels offered by financial institutions and resolution of ensuing discontent from customers, covering Access Bank, First Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, Diamond Bank, Sterling Bank, Wema Bank, Zenith Bank, Union Bank and Stanbic IBTC Bank, showed a mix of negligence, non-availability, inconsistency and untenable responses by officials.

Specifically, the investigations, through random checks on 51 customers at various branches of these institutions in Festac, Okota, Victoria Island areas of Lagos State and Owerri, in Imo State, have the majority applaud the innovations, but all expressed one form of discontent and one swore not to use any of those products.

Like Akpan, who now decided to stop the chase for restitution after series of complaints, a growing number of Nigerians are apprehensive of banking through the electronic channels that offer the best of service when successful, a development that does not inspire confidence, deepening of adoption and financial inclusion.

Mr. Chris, a businessman, said his challenge was that he was debited while purchasing airtime from Ecobank, which has been a repeated occurrence. He got tired of complaining when it took time for the money to be refunded given that the amount was small. “The last time I chatted with them through their online platform, I was assured it would fix, but up to this point, nothing has been done.”Badaiki, a customer of Guaranty Trust Bank, said even his bank’s ATM debited him without cash, together with Access Bank’s ATM at Egbeda in Lagos. Since January 2017 when the debit error took place, it is yet to be resolved.

“I have stopped going there because they were frustrating me and I don’t have the time due to my work. At a point, they were saying it is PoS fraud. But I did not use any PoS. I used ATM at the bank’s premises. This is funny,” he said.“It is the best way of transactions, be it on the web, PoS, ATM or phone. But I have always been apprehensive since last year, when I renewed my data plan for N4000 at 9mobile office through their Zenith Bank’s powered PoS, using my debit card from First Bank. Since then, it has been excuses and promises of tracing the transaction, up till now.

“The truth is that only few of the customers know they can report it and are interested in asking for the reversal of those transactions. Besides, only few too, have the time for such, especially when it involves an amount that you can overlook. But banks have always promised of automatic reversals,” Ogene Madagwa said.Patrick Tony, an inventory officer at a medical firm, lamented how his personal business was kept on hold for more than a month due to delay in refund.

Tony, a customer of Access Bank, said he withdrew N10, 000 from Fidelity Bank on the August 31, but debited without receiving the cash and waited for a reversal for some days.“When the fund was not returned, I went to Access Bank on September 5, to report the issue, and the lady at the counter asked me to come back in 10 working days. I went back on September 19 and was told that I was given wrong information, as the ideal amount of days was 14, but the previous person I spoke to didn’t work on it even. I was then giving another 10 working days. The money was finally transferred to my account on October 5.

Also, a graduate of English from Alvan Ikoku College of education, Precious Leonard, said she collected N6,000 from a friend with the plan of transferring it back because she needed it urgently and didn’t want to queue at the ATM point. She did the transfer immediately, but was debited without the money reflecting on her friends account.

“We waited throughout the day but it didn’t show. The next day being, I went to complain and was told I would receive a message. We were on our way to my friend’s bank to rectify the issue on Monday when I got the credit alert from the bank. I had to withdraw the money and pay in cash.

“I was embarrassed because it was as if I didn’t want to pay back. The money was needed for a journey on that Friday and it was cancelled as we had to wait till the money was returned,” she said.A businessman, Chibueze Okwuonu, said he had to pay twice to the person he sent it to because of the delay as the mobile transfer from Stanbic IBTC to Diamond Bank since November was neither successful nor returned.

“Every time I go to the bank, I would be told to come back in seven working days. I just got tired of being posted and honestly, I felt terribly disappointed that up until now, I have not been refunded,” he said.Another person, Stanley Tochukwu said he made a transaction via POS and was debited twice. The transaction was with an Ecobank account. It took the bank more than a week to refund the money after writing to them over three times through their online platform.

A banker, who does not want to be mentioned, said each transaction has many service providers at the backend. The processes of rectifying these things, at times, are difficult, depending on the level of compliance and compatibility of the institutions involved.“The technological adoption in the industry is not equal and so do the staff in charge of them. But the system is evolving continuously for good. We will get there,” the banker said.

What Rules Say
By the rules guiding electronic payments in Nigeria, which the interbank funds transfers is one, a bank is under obligation to receive customer complaints regarding transfer problems and pursue resolution to a logical conclusion, in line with the dispute resolution.
All Instant fund transfers disputes shall be resolved within three working days and where the Sending and Receiving entities fail to agree, the aggrieved entity shall report to the Director, Consumer Protection Department, CBN within five working days of the failure to resolve the dispute so as to minimize customer pain.

The bank is refund into customer’s account full proceeds of failed transactions returned by the Receiving Entity within 10 minutes; refund into customer’s account full proceeds of transaction which the Sending Entity is unable to process within one hour after the next settlement closure; Permit transfers from all its service delivery channels– branches, internet banking, mobile banking, ATM/Kiosks.

Going by these rules, it is obvious that banks are serially and severally violating the regulatory rules and consequently, discouraging the boarding of customers to the scheme that is meant to facilitate financial inclusion.

But the regulatory department at the Central Bank of Nigeria- Consumer Protection Department, would also have a part in the serial failures. Only last weekend was it able to fire off an initiative meant to create a desk for immediate resolution in the banks.

Specifically, the Director of Consumer Protection Department, Kofo Salam-Alada, in a circular, at the weekend, said it developed Consumer Complaint Management System (CCMS) to ease the process of addressing issues in customer-bank transactions.

The automated system aimed at easing complaints management to engender public confidence in the financial system, which would take effect from January 2, 2019, is compulsory for banks and other financial institutions, with sanctions for failures. Banks would now assign tracking number for every complaint received from customers, issue acknowledgement to customer and commence upload of the complaints on the CCMS.

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