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ATM failures: POS to the rescue of Nigeria’s cashless regime

By Chijioke Iremeka
12 February 2022   |   4:16 am
The Point of Sales (POS) system of payment for business transactions has come to the rescue of bank customers, who spend hours on long queues at banking halls to withdraw, transfer and deposit money...

The Point of Sales (POS) system of payment for business transactions has come to the rescue of bank customers, who spend hours on long queues at banking halls to withdraw, transfer and deposit money, following endless failure of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) across the country. POS now provides banking services to customers in their comfort zones as long as they are ready to part with a token for the luxury. The operators bring banking experience to the doorstep of those willing to enjoy the service. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes

Chinedu Nwanze, a father of two, who lives at Ogidi in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, was excited when ATM was introduced in his neighbouring community, Ogbunike. He was happy as the innovation reduced his frequency of visiting the banking hall for cash transactions, not knowing that something more exciting was waiting in the offing.

Before the ATM was introduced in his neighbourhood, Nwanze used to travel to Onitsha for cash transactions amid the challenges associated with such journey. But with the installation of two ATMs at the Ogbunike branch of the First Bank Plc., he reduced his visits to Onitsha, though network glitches and other systemic challenges occasionally force him to Onitsha for cash transactions.

Nevertheless, this heart-sweetening experience became short lived when incessant ATM failures pushed him back to Onitsha frequently, and by this time, to the Ogidi Building Materials Market along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway where almost every bank in the country has a branch.

Among the unpleasant experiences of using the ATM in the area after its introduction are long queues of bank customers, frequent system failure, lack of network, inability/failure of the machine to dispense cash, and non-availability of some financial institution for cash transactions in the system.

ATM, which was introduced in the country in 1989 by Dr. Bukola Saraki when he was the Chairman of Society Générale Bank of Nigeria (SGBN) before other commercial banks began to use it, started malfunctioning in many parts of the country, making bank customers to embrace POS as alternative.

At times, The Guardian observed, bank customers would stand helplessly at the ATM galleries waiting to use the machines to no avail.

“Sometimes, you will be on the long queue and when it gets to your turn, the ATM will run out of cash or come up with the information like ‘unable to dispense cash’ then you will be forced to go to Onitsha for your transactions,” Nwanze said.

According to him, since ATM system started experiencing network glitches, he decided to be going to Onitsha, especially when he notice long queue. ATM makes it possible to enjoy certain transactions after the banking hours but there is limitation as to the amount of money that can be withdrawn and transferred. Also, it doesn’t bring the ‘banking hall’ to the doorstep of customers who may still need to go out in search of a functional machine.

These and other challenges Nwanze and other banks customers encountered while using the ATMs are what the POS system has come to wipe off.

“I only pay the commission they will charge me which is not up to what I spend transporting myself to Onitsha or the Building Material Market,” he enthused.

To Nwanze, POS offers the best services to customers in communities where there are no banks or ATM centres.

“Bank customers no longer feel the absence of their banks with the clusters of the POS operators in their communities.

“You can withdraw money through POS, make deposits, and pay electricity bills, DSTV/GOtv subscription and other things. I don’t have to go to the bank again to do all these when there is POS everywhere,” he said.

Gone are the days when one needed to travel across seven rivers and seven deserts to get to banks for simple transactions like cash withdrawal, deposits and transfer.

POS was originally introduced in the country to facilitate payment for business transactions at departmental stores, fuel stations, malls and the likes, but the business ingenuity of Nigerians converted it into wider use. One would find different types of kiosks, umbrellas, house walls in open places with ‘POS Available’ boldly written on then.

By the way, a POS is a place where a customer executes payment for goods or services and where sales taxes may be paid. The transaction may occur in person or online, with receipts generated either in print or electronically. POS machines are being hawked in the Lagos markets as well as different markets in the country.

The Guardian gathered that with the POS revolution in the country, a simple phone call brings the banking hall into a bank customer’s comfort zone for almost all e-transactions.

Available POS in the country include Access POS, FirstMoney POS machine for its customers, Zenith’s Z-Money, UBA and UBA-Moni. Others like MoneyPoint, Momoagent and OPay POS machines exist alongside the big names. Their services are being hawked the way goods are hawked on the streets, markets and other public places. The operators are available at event centres, parties, burials, airports and other places where they envisage that people may be in need of cash.

During The Guardian’s visit to major businesses and markets in Lagos State, some POS operators were heard and seen advertising their services thus, “Your POS is here. Take your money, send money, pay your electricity bills and recharge your Gotv/DStv”.

With the development, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) policy of bringing banking to the doorstep of every household, otherwise known as financial inclusion, seems to be coming to realisation as more POS operators are emerging and servicing rural and urban dwellers who find it difficult going to the banks. The POS services make some things easy as one doesn’t need to have an existing account with any bank before being able to use then for certain transactions.

It was learnt that some churches now call on POS operators to collect their offerings after services. Northerners who sell cows and local personal business operators now send their money back home during off banking hours and weekends.

At night, you can also access cash through POS. It serves as insurance for those who may want to recharge their Gotv or Dstv account to continue viewing preferred programmes.

The fee charged by a POS operator is guided by a regime sent to the operator by the bank, which in turn depends on the amount involved, location and other services rendered.

Sometimes, it ranges from N100 to N500 per every N5000, depending on a number of factors. In some universities, students are at the mercy of the operators, as they sometimes have to contend with high charges.

“I normally collect money from a POS operator on my street. I prefer to pay the token they charge and collect money than wasting my time going to the ATM. Of course, the physical bank is a no-go-area for me in recent times,” said Uchenna Somadina, who lives at Nkpor, Anambra State.

He further said: “For seven months now, I have not been to the bank to withdraw cash. Everything I needed to do was done with the POS. I transfer money from POS, recharge my GOTV subscription and even make deposits.

“In fact, POS is so useful to me that my brother who lives in Abuja normally sends money to me through the POS operator. He will transfer money to the operator, including the charges, and ask the operator to give my mum money for her upkeep. She doesn’t need to go to the bank to collect it. I pay N200 per N10, 000.”

Balogun Oscar said since the proliferation of POS centres in the country, especially in his locality in FESTAC, Lagos, he had stopped carrying cash about. “Once I have my transport fare at hand, I can go anywhere, buy whatever I wants to buy and make cashless payment. I’m just with my card alone. So, anybody wanting to steal cash from me is waiting a hell of time because he won’t see anything serious to be stolen from me. POS has liberalised a whole lot of things. Those people who are scared of accepting transfers from strangers now accept transfers,” he quipped.

Halima Musa, who spoke to The Guardian at Ikeja Shoprite, said POS, whether on the street operated by some individuals or the ones used in big supermarkets, was good and had done a lot to reduce the rate at which people carry money from one place to the other, risking being robbed.

Banners advertising services of POS operators at Ladipo auto spare parts, Mushin Lagos PHOTO: CHIJOKIE IREMEKA

“POS has really saved us from ATM incessant failures. At least POS operators are everywhere. When there is system failure in one, you get it from another person with a different network. There are other companies that operate POS that are not banks. So their operation is more reliable than the ATMs which can decide to go gaga at once,” Musa said.

Nzube Ejike, a graduate POS operator, conducts his business between Idemili North and Oyi Local Government Areas of Anambra State with FirstMonie POS.

He used to go to Ntege at night to collect money from traders and do transfers for others coming to the market to buy cows. Also, certain women in his neighbourhood, who trade in dried fishes, call on him for cash withdrawal and deposits.

“Per N10, 000, I charge N100, whether withdrawal or deposit. But some people do N200 per N10, 000. There is money in it and the more money transactions you make the more turnover you have,” he said.

Wale Ogunbiyi, another operator who spoke to The Guardian on the acquisition of a POS, said he paid N19, 000 to speed up the process of getting it in WEMA.

“Ordinarily, I’m not supposed to pay any money before collecting the POS, but if I should wait for the natural process, it might take a longer time. I was told that I could use money to facilitate quick delivery, which I did. You know in police, bail is free, but it’s left for you to determine how free bail is when your relative is in the police custody.”

According to him, to get the POS, the company or bank that wants to issue it will need to monitor the applicant’s volume of business to determine whether the machine will make good return to the applicant and the company.

“Usually, the company will like to see how much cards the applicant sells, the utility bills and digital television payment he has made to be sure that the machine is going to be put into profitable use. Also, there are other companies that sell their own machine. They sell between N25, 000 and N65, 000 depending on the machine.

“I am a graduate, and because there are no jobs, I started doing this to create a job for myself for the meantime. But I can see that the business is lucrative. When there is business, I can make N7, 000 profit in a day,” he said.

HOWEVER, the POS business also has its own challenges that can be very detrimental to the interest of customers.

It was gathered that some fraudulent operators are interested in the 19 digits (especially the last four digits) of a customer’s card number with which they defraud unsuspected customers. They can snap your card if you are careless and leave it with them.

There are cases of dispense errors in which the POS machine will not dispense cash, yet the customer’s account would have been debited. In most cases, the system reverses itself, but sometimes, it doesn’t and it will requires that the affected customer go to his or her bank physically to lodge complaint.

Esther Jideofor said: “I went to a gas plant to fill my cooking gas cylinder. They used a POS with a bad network to collect payment. After slotting in my First Bank MasterCard, the operator punched N7, 800 which is the amount of gas I bought. I put in my four digits secret code and pressed enter. The transaction declined but I was debited since November 27, 2021. It didn’t reverse and I didn’t also have the time to visit my bank to complaint till two weeks ago when I was told that it was going to reverse within five working days. I am yet to see the refund of N7, 800.”

On the side of the operator, Chimobi Ibeneme, said: “The business is not without challenges. The risk is very high and they come in the forms of violence and threats from customers who often insist on instant disbursement of cash even when there is dispense error instead of visiting their bank branches to lodge complaints.

“Network downtime is a problem. Many customers resent going to banks because it takes five to 10 working days to resolve intra-bank and inter-bank dispense errors. They often intimidate our staff, something they cannot do at ATM points, but we resort to persuasion.

“Another challenge is security, because we have issues with fake bank alerts. On some occasions, fraudsters will claim to have transferred money through the USD code into your account and you will actually receive alert that the amount has entered your account, on the basis of which you release goods purchased and pay out cash if the transaction is to get cash. Later you will discover that the alert you got was a fake one. The fraudsters have done that to some of our colleagues. A colleague lost N200, 000 in one operation. Also, sometimes robbers attack some of our fellow POS operators.”

On January 21, Miss Ezinne Grace Iroh, a female POS operator, was killed by suspected armed robbers on Ukaegbu Street in Ogbor Hill area of Aba, Abia State, while Dr. Victor Chimaobi, also a POS operator, at Market Road by Kent Street Aba, was also robbed and killed by the gang on January 31.

Within 48 hours, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Geoffrey Ogbonna, also confirmed the killing of another POS operator, Mr. Victor Igbokwe, in Aba by suspected armed robbers.

In Ibadan, Oyo State, a POS operator was kidnapped on April 6, 2021, under Iwo Road Bridge. He was abducted about 4:30pm after leaving a bank where he went to withdraw money for his POS business. His abductors demanded N5 million as ransom

Police detectives have also alleged that some POS operators connive with kidnappers and Internet fraudsters to collect their money and ransom because the criminals are scared of collecting their money in the bank.

For instance, the police in Igara, Edo State, arrested a POS operator, Gadimoh Ofei Bright, 29, who reportedly confessed to the crime that he usually helped kidnappers collect ransom from their victim’s families.

According to the CBN guidelines on POS card acceptance services and issues relating to dispense errors, resolution of disputed/failed POS or Web transactions shall be concluded within 72 hours from the current five (5) days.

The apex bank also directed that all banks are bound to resolve the backlog of all ATM, POS and Web customer refunds within two weeks, starting from June last year.

“Failed ‘On-Us’ ATM transactions (when customers use their cards on their bank’s ATMs) shall be instantly reversed from the current timeline of three (3) days and where instant reversal fails due to any technical issue or system glitch, the timeline for manual reversal shall not exceed 24 hours.

“Refunds for failed ‘Not-on-Us’ ATM transactions (where customers use their cards on other banks’ ATMs) shall not exceed 48 hours from the current 3 to 5 days,” the CBN said.