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Unending bank customers’ rip-off over failed transactions

By Victor Uzoho
04 March 2019   |   4:20 am
Five months after a new Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) directive to banks to ensure a speedy and timely reversal of funds arising from failed transactions...

Customers queuing at an ATM point.

Five months after a new Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) directive to banks to ensure a speedy and timely reversal of funds arising from failed transactions, customers are still experiencing delayed refund, some running into months.

All the banks are guilty in meeting the CBN’s directive on the fund reversal, although they blame technological glitches relating to connectivity.

Technology, they say, has made everything simple, but when there is a system failure, the same technology can bring untold pain or hardship.

In furtherance to the cashless policy, many bank customers have embraced electronic banking for a number of transactions. One of such transaction-made-easy is mobile or internet banking, where a customer is saved from the harrowing experience of queuing for hours to make a simple transaction.

While the older generation contended with the “tally number” system until recently, the younger ones now engage in banking-on-the-go using technology, through the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD.

The USSD is a Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication technology through which one can perform various banking transactions such as buying airtime, opening bank account, checking your account balance, transferring money to your bank and other banks, and payment of utility bills, etc.

But customers’ experiences indicate that despite all the technological breakthroughs, some of the simple transactions like sending money to a receiver in another bank or withdrawing from an automated teller machine (ATM), and even buying airtime, become a big challenge when they fail, and the funds remain trapped pending the resolution by the banks involved.
CBN directive

Based on the deluge of complaints, CBN, in the a circular dated September 13, 2018, in exercise of the powers conferred on it under Sections 2(d), 33 (1)b) and 47(2) of the CBN Act 2007 to promote sound financial system in Nigeria, issued some guidelines on Electronic Operation of Instant Electronic Funds Transfer Services in Nigeria.

The apex bank in the circular, with reference number: BPS/DIR/GEN/CIR/05/011, said the move is to “facilitate the development of an efficient and effective payments system in Nigeria.”

Financial institutions, among others, were directed to: “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 (1) hour after the next settlement closure.”

As a penalty for default, the financial services regulator stipulated that “A failed NIP transaction not reversed into customer’s account within 24 hours Based on complaints of sender and/or beneficiary? of N10,000.00 per item.”
And all the banks are guilty!

Some customers took to their twitter handles to lament their predicament, saying their banks were yet to refund their monies, some upward of four to six months, even after they had made countless complaints through their different customer care channels.

A customer of First Bank of Nigeria, who is a National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) member, Mr Bankole Adebanjo, with the twitter handle @iam_bankole1, complained bitterly of the bank’s refusal to refund his N6,739 that was debited from his account on December 25th 2018 after a failed transaction.

He told The Guardian, that the bank’s response to his complaints was that he should send the transaction details so the issue could be rectified, but the bank is yet to rectify the issue after he met their demand.

He said: “First Bank is too poor in terms of quick response to customers’ complaints. I used the Point of Sale (PoS) to transact on 25th December 2018, and I was debited while the transaction was unsuccessful. I didn’t complain at that moment thinking the money would be reversed.

“Till date, I am yet to receive my money, and I have since reached out of them through twitter and email, but they keep telling the same story that my complaint is being passed to where it would be solved after taking them days to give me feedback.”

Another customer of First Bank, Mr. Micheal Adeyeye, with the twitter handle @Otunba_Babyface, on 26th December 2018, tweeted his displeasure over the non-refund of a debit on his account after a failed transaction, when he tried to purchase airtime using the bank’s mobile app.

He said the failed transaction occurred on 24th December, and the refund, which shouldn’t take more than 24 hours, lingered for over 12 days, with the bank being nonchalant about paying back the money.

His words: “This issue has been a recurring issue but I have often overlooked it since they are small amounts. I used the bank’s mobile app to buy airtime on 24th December 2018, and the transaction failed.

“I tried again only to discover that I had been debited for the failed transaction, while the recipient only received airtime for one of the transactions; and up till this moment, I am yet to receive a refund for the failed transaction, neither has the recipient received the airtime debited.”

Another customer of the bank, Mr Ifeanyi Uzoho, narrated his ordeal at the hands of the bank, saying that the sum of N1,500 was debited from his account for two failed transactions and he is yet to get a refund.

He said: “I tried to purchase airtime of N1,200 on 10th December 2018, using an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). The transaction was unsuccessful but my account was debited. I tried again to purchase airtime worth N300 using the bank’s mobile app, the transaction also failed, while I was debited.

“I went to the First Bank branch at Mayfair Gardens, Ibeju Lekki, along Lekki-Epe Expressway, and laid a complaint and they gave me two forms, which I filled in for a refund of my money but I’m yet to receive any of the money.

“I also reported the issue to the bank on twitter since December 2018, and they asked for my account number and the transaction details which I sent to them, but I was only told to exercise patience.”

A customer of Zenith Bank, Gabriel Akaleme, with the tweeter handle @akaleme_gabriel on 9th January 2019, tweeted that the bank was yet to resolve a debit on his account after he made an unsuccessful transaction on 26th December 2018.

Another customer of the bank, Oluwakemi Jimoh, also complained that she was debited N10,000 after a failed transaction while trying to make a withdrawal from an ATM belonging to Guarantee Trust Bank (GTBank) on 22nd December 2018, noting that she is yet to get a refund after lodging several complaints at the bank.

Meanwhile, a customer of GTBank, Ajaraonye Nwachukwu, on 7th January 2019, complained of a debit of N15,300 on his account after a failed POS transaction on 22nd December 2018, which is yet to be refunded.

Another customer of the bank, Babatunde Olatunji, with the twitter handle @basz, on 8th January 2019, also complained of his account being debited after a failed POS transaction on 18th December 2018, which is yet to be rectified after sending the transaction details to the bank.

Also, a customer of Heritage Bank, Nmenme Nkuma, on 2nd January 2019 decried the non-refund of a debit on his account on 18th December 2018, after a failed POS transaction even after filling in a dispense error form in a branch of the bank.

Again, a customer of Ecobank Nigeria, Olaide Magbagbeola, said 24th January 2019 made it two months that the sum of N20,000 was debited from her account after a failed transaction.

Another customer of the bank, Uba Chijioke, with the twitter handle @uba_chijioke, on 8th January 2019, said 14th January 2019, made it two months that the sum of N7,500 was debited from his account after a failed transaction.

Similarly, Surely Ishere, who claims to be a customer of Access Bank, on 4th January 2019, twitted with the twitter handle @surelyishere, that the bank has failed to resolve an unauthorised debit of N31,000 made on his account since September 2018.

A customer of Diamond Bank, who simply identified herself as Lucia, on 10th January 2019, twitted with the handle @luciacares4u that the bank was yet to reverse a debit on her account after a failed transaction that happened on 12th November 2018, even after promising to do so by 11th December 2018.
Banks’ defence

A source at Heritage Bank, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that the issues of non-reversal of debited funds after failed transactions were most times caused by third-party banks and some intermediary networks.

He said: “If the corresponding banks do not get back to us on time, then there is nothing we can do about the transactions, but if they do, that is when you see us addressing the issue on time.

“When you use our debit card to transact through another bank’s POS and the transaction fails, the issue cannot be resolved outrightly. Heritage would have to liaise with the other bank, and the issue will only be solved pending when the other bank responds.

“This is also not only a bank-to-bank thing, as some of these issues are from people managing these platforms like the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS), and other transfer platforms which the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has mandated to manage these platforms.”

Agreeing, the Head, Media Relations, Access Bank Plc, Abdul Imoyo, told The Guardian, that the issue is industry related, stressing that delays in reversal of these funds were most times caused by intermediaries, which include NIBSS and Interswitch.

Also contributing, Polaris Bank Limited, noted that interbank transaction is a major reason there are delays in the resolution of debit after failed transactions.

The bank said the process of resolution between Polaris and other banks always requires the internal audit of both banks to investigate the matter and come out with findings, and this in turn, affects the Turn Around Time (TAT) of the bank.

Speaking further, in an email response to The Guardian, the bank said: “There are failed transactions, especially with the USSD channel, that cannot be identified until the customer makes a formal complaint; thus the time the customer makes the complaint may take a while and this would have already affected the TAT for resolution.

“Failed transactions on POS and web involve the customer’s domiciled bank, the processing bank, Interswitch and the merchant, which takes nothing less than seven working days, as the other bank will need to have a response from the merchant to accept the claim before the affected customer’s bank can get the refund for credit to the customer’s account.

“We do apologise to our customers irrespective of wherever the delay is coming from whether it’s from us or from the other banks. However, we don’t pay compensation on such funds and to the best of our knowledge, we are not aware of any bank that pays compensation on cash retract.”

A Media relations Officer at Diamond Bank, Eze Anyanwu, also reiterated that middle partners like NIBSS, Interswitch and others, who are third parties, sometimes prolong the resolution of such issues.

He said, “This is one of the issues in fixing customers’ requests timely. Its takes us 14 working days to sort out failed transactions on the POS; failed transactions on ATMs take us two to five working days, while some take five to seven working days.

“If it’s through the USSD, it takes three working days. When we contact NIBSS on some of these issues, the mails go back and forth for a while, and they would sometimes say that they are revisiting the case and it might take a while longer.”

Efforts to get responses from other banks including First Bank, Zenith Bank, Ecobank Nigeria, Wema Bank, First City Monument Bank, and Guarantee Trust Bank proved abortive, as they refused to respond to enquiries sent to their official emails.

After many days of waiting, Interswitch, a major intermediary in such transactions failed to respond to The Guardian about its challenges, despite promising to do so.

Talk to us when your banks fail – NIBSS
Head, Corporate Communication, NIBSS, Lilian Phido, responding to the claims by banks, dismissed them as false, as NIBSS does not keep customers money but serves only as a channel through which these transactions go through.

She said: “We try to encourage customers to escalate such issues by calling NIBSS 24hour support centre on 0800ASKNIBSS (08002756427), and right there and then, the customers can get to know where their money is.

“We are the platform between the two parties, and we are blindfolded. We don’t even know who owns what or whom the customers are, but if you escalate the issue and call our support centre, we can check for you at what point your money is.

“We also take the complaints off the customers and follow up with the banks. Our support centre personnel would be able to take customers complaints and follow up with the bank and if there is a breakdown in the system, the money remains where it was before the breakdown.”

[FILE PHOTO] Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) governor Godwin Emefiele

Come to us when all else fails, urges CBN
The Head, Complaints Management Division, CBN, Mr Tajudeen Ahmed, noted that drawing the apex bank’s attention to unresolved transactions would address such issues.

Ahmed advised customers with unresolved complaints to contact the CBN by writing to the Director, Consumer Protection Department, or send an email to:

He also advised dissatisfied bank customers to visit any branch of the CBN closest to them to lay their complaints.
“The CBN continually engages the banks to find out if their conducts and practices are fair to their customers in order to stimulate people’s confidence in the banking system. “Non-adherence to that normally results in regulatory sanctions as the case may be,” he said.

Sequel to the September directive, the CBN in December 2018, also announced the deployment of its Consumer Complaint Management System (CCMS) to ease the process of addressing these issues.

The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, in a circular on its website, assured that the automated system would help ease complaint management, noting that the CCMS would ultimately boost Nigerians’ confidence in the banking sector.

According to him, the move is part of the apex bank’s commitment to ensuring that the banking and finance sector is stable and conducive for both customers and operators.

“The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in furtherance of its mandate to promote stable financial system, embarked on the development of a Consumer Complaint Management System (CCMS). This is an automated system aimed at easing complaints management to engender public confidence in the financial system.

“In view of this development, the CBN has made it compulsory for banks and other financial institutions to abide by three important guidelines,” he said.

The regulator said the banks would have to assign a tracking to every complaint received from their respective customers and must also acknowledge the receipt of every complaint through an e-mailed response.

The CBN advised banks and other financial services operators to ensure that they adhered to those stipulations, which became effective January 2, 2019, adding that failure to comply would attract sanctions in line with the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA), Cap B3, LFN 2004.

However, some customers alleged the CBN hasn’t been able to resolve their complaints and has not responded to the issues they have raised on its social media platforms.

For these customers, the most important thing is not whether the banks respond or not, or whose fault it is, but how well the CBN is wielding the big stick regarding the resolution of issues. Indeed, customers expect banks to be sanctioned accordingly when resolutions are unnecessarily delayed in order to build confidence in the institutions.