Faulty ATMs and return of queues in banks
With the introduction of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), bank customers heaved a sigh of relief, thinking this will ease the difficulties faced in withdrawing money and reducing the long queues and waiting experienced in banks. This innovation was lauded in the sector, especially as various banks stopped attending to customers whose withdrawals fall below N100,000 across the counter; thus mandating them to use the machine. This introduction led to the mad rush for ATM cards. This enabled withdrawals at odd times, like at night when banks would have closed shop for the day or at weekends and on Sundays.
The machines, to a large extent, really eased challenges customers face as they dispense money faster. While Nigerians are carried away in the euphoria so created, some banks, especially those in semi-urban areas begin to put up poor services, their networks going off-and-on, making customers to spend long man hours at ATM centres, especially at weekends and month ends. This almost made the idea of using ATM in some locations or parts of the country difficult, as the machines would not bring out money, forcing customers to use of their cheque books for as little as N1,000.
Decrying this poor quality service, some customers revealed that they had to upgrade from using ATM to doing money transfer on their phones. According Alfu Isaku, this method has save him the pains of waiting endless to withdraw money at the ATM centres, aside making transfer easier and faster.
For petty traders and small-scale business operators who transact business with physical cash either as receipts for payment or exchange for goods and services, it becomes worrisome, as many have little knowledge of the Internet or literate enough to upgrade their apps.
For Mr. Asuquo Ekenam, a banker, this should be one of the things the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should focus on, because the economy of the grassroots people matters. “If these traders for the failure of the system refuse to use the banks; shun the banks and keep their money wherever they think safe, it will affect the economy as a whole.
“Would the crayfish seller accept money transfer for N100 or N500 item? Or would the orange seller or bean cake seller accept the same means of payment for their products? No, they won’t; which is why the ATM has to be made available and workable for the dispensation of small sums of money. For it is through this class of business people that the lower denomination of money is spread in the economy,” he noted.
Commenting on this development, Mr. Charles Olainuka, a branch manager with one of the old generation banks observed that the fault come in two ways –– one, with customers whose banks’ Internets are too slow to connect with other banks. Another is banks that will only stock one machine with money out of the very few they have. This, he noted contributes to the delays currently experienced in most places.
Chris Ajufute, a banker, however, allayed fears that this is a ploy to make customers switch to the use of POS system or do money transfer. According to him, whichever electronic system or means in use, if people do not get the technology right, the system would continue to be faulty.
“Our ATM networks fluctuate and disappoint customers because we do not have the technical know-how to keep them working for 24 hours in a week through out the year. Aside this, they are heavily dependent on electricity to power them and each time we run out of fuel, we turn them off, which is the usual ‘out of service’ message on the ATM monitor. This means customers have to wait for as long as their patience can take them.
“We do not tell them our challenges, so that they would not feel bad about us. We just let them wait and when the system is not responding they leave, but those who come to find out why, we simply apologise to them; and they go to another bank,” he disclosed.
Explaining that most of the problems associated with ATM machines cannot be put on the banks only, Ekanem disclosed that no bank, both the new and old generation, is free from this problems. He added that while they are downplaying the problem as if it does not exist, customers themselves are not helping matters, as they oftentimes handle their ATM cards in a very bad manner that the machines finds it difficult to dispense cash each time it is inserted into the machine. This could be part of the problems, as in such situations, the custom may spend some time trying to get through, and even if he/she goes to another bank’s port the situation would still be the same.
According to him, the ATM cards are sensitive and need to be kept in such a way that the metal surface is not blurred or cracked. “So, everything about the ATM boils down to the level of our technology and software handling,” he said.On the way out of the situation, Bolanle Akinbowale, a senior bank official with a new generation bank, said it is easier to make withdrawals from one’s bank.
Would this not defeat the purpose of ATM, which allows people to cash money form anywhere and from any bank?Akinbowale said a branch has to keep certain amount of money in its coffers for one day to run the branch, which makes the branch manger to monitor its in and out cash flows. And since no manager would want withdrawals to exceed deposits, he/she loads certain amount in the machine each day and when that runs out, the branch has to wait for the next day; unless there are enough deposits to augment excess withdrawal. So, some of the queues we see around some banks could be as a result of this.
According to her, Nigerians, especially those at the lower rung, which constitute the greater number of ATM users, are yet to adopt the Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) system and until people do this, the long queues will be a regular feature around the banks.
“The queues would remain because most banks are no interested in spending huge sums of money upgrading their servers for improved ATM services and others. In fact, the issue does not only lie on upgrading, but fixing the non-functional machines. You will be surprise to see some banks with over 14 machines, having only three or four functional ones.
This on its own is a clog in the wheel of progress,“ she noted. Oke Salami, head of Treasury in one of the financial institutions, said Nigeria’s financial environment is getting better with the introduction of ATM machines and other e-money facilities. According to him, the ATMs are for small withdrawals from N500 to N100,000, which is the reason many people go for them. It allows customers to withdraw some amount of money from any location, instead of carrying cash.
Salami, however, noted that the current challenge with the system is because Nigeria is under-banked and called for a situation, where banks will install more functional machines in public spaces, as it is done abroad.