Banks face angry customers as network glitches mar holidays
• Yuletide tests resilience of e-payment infrastructure
• Financial institutions pay over N3 billion claims in six months
• Subscribers decry persistent drop calls, undelivered SMS, illegal deductions
• ALTON appeals to customers as NATCOMS seeks compensation
As early as 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, banking premises around Lagos, the financial hub of the country, were jam-packed with customers waiting impatiently to register complaints of sundry failed transactions during the Christmas holidays.
The Guardian inquiries suggested the situation was the same across different states, where frustration over inefficient electronic payment system and failed Automated Teller Machine (ATM) transactions reached boiling point.
Banks and other formal business shut their doors to customers at the weekend extending to Christmas and Boxing Day holidays, when financial transactions peaked across the country.
But depositors had a horrible experience withdrawing at ATMs and Point of Sale (PoS) terminals or while making transfers, as the channels were overwhelmed with rising demand.
As the situation, monitored by correspondents in Lagos, Abuja and other major cities, continued, some merchants, including popular eateries and filling stations, switched to ‘cash only’ transactions.
As customers grappled with the frustration of being unable to access their savings, regular digital communication channels, such as email and social media, were lethargic, with response taking as much as 48 hours in many cases.
Most banks would not speak officially about the downtime. But staff, who are privy to the challenges, exonerated the banks, saying switching companies are not doing enough to improve their services.
In recent months, the efficiency of e-payment channels has buckled. There are no accessible current official statistics but the frustration of customers has sparked trending posts on social media.
Last year, complaints about poor and fraudulent practices by financial institutions rose from 1,973 to 2,483, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) disclosed in its Financial Stability Report.
The total number of complaints received against financial institutions in the first half of this year fell by two per cent to 2,432, from 2,483 in the second half of last year. About 93 per cent of the complaints were filed against banks while seven per cent were against other financial institutions.
The data revealed that 35 per cent of the complaints had to do with cards and electronic services. The apex bank said N8.13 billion and $0.01 million claims were involved, with total refunds amounting to N3.36 billion and $0.03 million executed after resolutions.
Poor service did not stop at banking as Nigerians celebrated. Telephony service, the underling infrastructure of e-payment, was at its lowest ebb during the festive period, as millions of subscribers were subjected to poor telecoms services in the week into Christmas and days after.
The challenge, however, was not altogether unexpected, as this has been the norm, especially during festive periods, when families and friends check on one another and consequently increase call rates and web surfing.
During the period, The Guardian found that complaints consisted of an increase in drop calls, undelivered Short Message Service (SMS), network jamming, irregular billings, poor Internet connections, etc.
To make matters worse, the network glitches also affected electronic payments, as people were unable to complete various money transfers within the period, and the challenge persists.
The quartet of MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile, including the regulator – the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) – has not been spared for not sanctioning the service providers’ poor quality.
In Nigeria, while operators have since connected 320 million telephone lines, out of these, some 214 million lines have been active. 152 million Nigerians surf the Internet via the narrowband (GSM) platform, while some 86 million people explore the web via broadband platforms.
Speaking with The Guardian, a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, wondered how long Nigerians would continue to suffer, despite spending between N2 trillion and N3 trillion on telecoms services, especially on airtime yearly.
Aluko noted that the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) set by the NCC do not reflect their performance or challenges of the industry.
“I think something drastic needs to be done. There is a serious rip off in the sector. How will I send a text, money will be removed, and the message will not get to the destination? Or how do you explain dialing a number, the number is not connecting, and your money is removed? The situation is disheartening!
“The service has been very bad this festive period. Calls are not just pulling. Slow Internet compounded money transfers, among others. I think it is high time NCC woke up and monitored these operators. The rip off is much,” he said.
Narrating her experience in Ogun, a network subscriber, Adisa Balogun, complained that she had been experiencing drop calls and undelivered SMS in the last month, and wondered if the NCC still monitors the operators.
According to her, “during this festive period, drop calls, uncompleted calls and illegal credit deductions have been the order of the day with the networks.”
Another subscriber, Alexandria Moses, a businesswoman and loyal customer of one of the big players, complained of drop calls and connection failures. She lamented that her clients now find it difficult to reach her for business transactions during the Xmas period.”
On her part, Toyin Olakunle lamented that she couldn’t complete money transfers “as the service continues to show transaction error. It was later I discovered that the network bar on my mobile phone was navigating from EDGE, 2G, 3G and partially 4G. It took me about five hours to be able to send N40,000 to my mum in the village.”
Speaking with The Guardian, the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMs), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said the last time Nigerians enjoyed a hitch-free festive period was between 2010 and 2011, the first decade of the revolution.
“But since then, it has been poor service, which has been compounded by the usage of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook because the traffic goes toward them.
“But then, the operators should, by now, know better that every time like this, services are always poor. They should have done something to nip that in the bud and not rip subscribers off, especially as we run on 4G network,” he said.
An official of one of the operators, who spoke anonymously, said: “We are aware of the network challenges. On the issue of quality of service, there’s been a massive spike in fiber cuts across the country. Some are accidental but most are a result of sabotage. Indiscriminate construction activities are going on around the country. There are days we witness multiple fiber cuts.”
He added: “We are partnering with construction companies to proactively prevent damages to our cables during construction work.
“More importantly, we have significantly improved our reaction time, so that we can repair damages faster and get the network back online within the shortest possible time.
“We are building extra capacities and redundancies to improve the resilience and integrity of our network. The security situation is of great concern.”
Also speaking, the Chairman, the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said service downtime usually results from damage to telecoms infrastructure, stressing that this happens in both urban and rural areas.
Adebayo said something decisive should be done to protect infrastructure, adding: “We shall continue to have some pockets of disruptions. We understand we are in the Christmas period and I am sure that operators are working to guarantee improved service.
“But we appeal to the public to help us too in protecting these infrastructures that are spread across the country, that we rely on to expand and improve services.”