If you have an account in any of Nigeria's numerous banks and you do not yet have a story of frustration or disappointment to tell, you have not started being served.
If, like me, you have enlisted in any one of the internet banking systems of these financial corporations, you must now be familiar with the various kinds of disservice that have become the staple experience of many customers or clients already conscripted into the industry.
Not long ago, just about two decades before the much-hyped revolution of modern banking in the country, Nigerian banks operated on analogue system. Banks were actually real-time financial houses that served as collectors and disbursers of monies belonging to individuals, private companies, organisations and government institutions. There was no razzmatazz to their operations; no pretensions to swift deliveries; service hours were limited; but there was relative reliability in delivery of product. The banks of the 1980s and 1990s were not perfect; they struggled to be, and that was why the new industry of the new age borrowed digital sense and claimed advancement according to the rise in the economy base, according to international standards. Rapid delivery of service, tested reliability and security became the new selling points of the banking industry. The ease of doing business became the new mantra of your neighbourhood banker. At least on paper. Or in theory.
I have seven accounts in different banks from Access Bank to Zenith Bank. I must be quick to say that I do minimalist banking, meaning that I spread all that I earn as a professor, author and consultant, unevenly, across these banks for one single reason: uncertainty of doing business. I have that many bank accounts not because of wealth but for survival strategy. For this same atmospheric reason, I have three active phone numbers from three of the telecommunications companies that struggle to keep their subscribers on their lists. I run multiple accounts in hope that if one banking transaction fails, the other one will not; and if that one fails too, there is a standby, alternate account that will not fail.
It is not an exaggeration that some customers go in prayer to the ATM or to the banking hall in hope of simple transactions that should draw no blood.
Yet, banking transaction requires that you pray fast and hard, that the queue is not too long, that the teller machine does not go out of service or out of cash, that your ATM card is not swallowed into the dark underbelly of the mechanical whale. And if you eventually succeed in withdrawing the money, you must wait and count the money, sort the dirty notes from the torn, and be sure that your withdrawal is exact.
But the unkindest cut in the pot of these banks is the phenomenon of ATM deduction without cash being dispensed, and perhaps the most frustrating is the scenario of POS deduction without service being rendered.
I have not met a compatriot who has not experienced such rough embarrassment in the hands of the banker or his machine. When a transaction fails and the money is already deducted, it takes some prayerful intercession for the bank to effect reversal. And when reversal is done, does the interbank COT, which has already been deducted, get returned to the customer? Sometimes, the waiting period of reversal can be as brief as one hour. Reversal can take a week, a month or even more, as in the Interbank case involving Zenith Bank and First Bank, with yours sincerely as a scapegoat of the sloppiness of most banking operations in this country.
I shall be brief. My interesting ordeal began on December 19, 2018. I reported the problem to my local branch. The officer to whom I had developed good rapport duly logged in the complaint and pleaded patience. So I waited. One month. Two month. Three month. I then put in an email to First Contact on March 22, 2019:
To Whom It May Concern
Please assist in resolving a prolonged matter of duplicate debit on my account at a POS transaction made on December 19, 2018.
I used a First Bank Platinum card to make a purchase at an NNPC petrol station on Ijebu-Ode-Sagamu Road on 19/12/2018. A first attempt was reported as “DECLINED”, but the second attempt of the card use was successful. At both attempts, I requested a debit of five thousand (N5,000) Naira. Surprisingly, both POS deductions were made on my account number XXXXX.
Subsequently, I lodged a report at the XXXX branch of First Bank, and till now, over three months after the failed POS transaction, the sum of N5,000 is yet to be returned into my account.
Please find below further details of the POS transactions for necessary attention:
Date; December 19, 2018
Company: NNPC (operated by RABADE PETROLEUM LIM/OG/NG/1912)
First Debit: N5,000
Time of Debit: 17:20:28
Second Debit: N5,000
Time of Debit: 17:21:10
I hope that you will use your good offices to resolve this failed POS transaction as soon as possible.
Prof. A. Raji-Oyelade
University of Ibadan.
The response was swift, and the key word was apologies.
We are approaching the fourth month anniversary of this interesting palaver. I learnt that I should have reported to the Central Bank of Nigeria. I decided not to. It was not necessary. The money in question is below twenty dollars! My mates who made it into politics are busy stuffing two, twenty, two hundred million dollars in different bank accounts some of which they even forget to operate out of financial saturation. They lose monies in six digit numbers doing Interbank transactions; and they do not report such incidents to the apex bank. I should be wise, or be ashamed enough of my financial anaemia.
Then I realised that my bank was going to be one hundred and twenty-five years in existence and it was celebration time. So I tweeted, to see if they would remember my poor complaint:
@FirstBankngr, 125 years going, we are still struggling to get simple procedures in transactions done. Will somebody at HQ SOS. A POS deduction made from my account since December 2018, still waiting for resolution. What do you call that?
Yes, they replied:
Hello @remraj1, we empathize with you on the issue raised. Kindly DM us your account number, the transaction date and amount to enable us review and advice as appropriate. #YouFirst
Predictable. Machine predictable I will say. I soon discovered that the handle of this bank was filled with customer complaints followed by the ready-made, filthy, template apology. My training is to teach in answering and to clarify in asking; so I re-tweeted:
@FirstBank, I no longer need empathy, sympathy or apology. I need you to serve Nigeria right. Before getting to this point, I had contacted FirstContact, with result still pending...
Until that meagre amount is returned to my account, advisedly with interest, it is now part of the increasing floating money (unclaimed and failed transactions) whichFlutterwave, the payments infrastructure company which deals with interbank solutions, must help to resolve timeously.
Surely, there is a general sloppiness that cannot be accounted for with the quality of personnel these banks parade. They just end up turning what should be a seamless banking operation into a frustrating warfare of anticipation, crosscheck and uncertainties.
It may be your bank tomorrow. So, I must not compare these banks; no, I won’t, because they say if you compare one child's brilliance with the other child's dullness, you will beat one to death. But in this matter, there is rarely any brilliance in the house of Banking Nigeriana. It is all dross, and frustration, every day of every week. I shall therefore not compare one bank with the other because one can't be too sure which is worse in service and which is a wastrel in reputation.
What I have come to know over time is that there is so much impunity in the way banks attend to their customers that the server has come to imbibe the culture of condescension and belated apologies, and the served, the culture of hapless beggary.
It is on paper that Nigeria boasts some of the most solid banks in Africa; yet, the advancement made within the past two decades is such that it is almost equal to the measure of retrogression noticeable in the basic procedure of radical banking.
To the CEOs who care to read this, or to their assistants or deputies who are diligent enough to send them the link, I have simple words, simple exhortation for you. Stop making a mess of simple calculations. Stop the authorised thievery of people's monies. Stop being clever by half in charging people for what you have not served them. Stop hair-splitting deductions from the account of the poor masses of this country. Stop harbouring criminal elements within the banking system, and stop lowering the security gauge which allows legitimate rogue accounts of scammers in your system. Stop devising more problems than relief for your captive customers.
Together, let us learn to name and shame our infelicities.
There are numerous others who have been victims, treated like mere decimals and data in the reckless disregard for the customer comfort. instead of customer care, all we experience is customer carelessness.
Stop being banks of errors and apologies. Shape up, or close shop.
April 10, 2019