It was a cold and slightly hazy morning. The harmattan wind blew all through the night to leave the surrounding temperature on the temperature gauge of my car within 19c and 21c. I had so much in my head; a list of “to-do” that has to be accomplished before 12pm so I can get back to the office. More so, it was Thursday. The weekly environmental sanitation program in Oyo state had started and banks will not be opened until 10:00am!
As I scanned through the list again just to be sure I hadn’t left anything out, I noticed that the common denominator in all the listed activities I set out to do was money. I needed cash to pay the mechanic, offset an outstanding fee at my son’s day-care centre, pay for some things that my wife wanted me to pickup for her (kitchen related of course – what do you expect?), to mention but a few.
The immediate thought was to locate the nearest Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) to make my withdrawals. I eventually made up my mind to use my Bank’s ATM, even though it isn’t the closest. It’s something I resolved to be doing, when one of the staff of my bank told me that the bank (my bank) is debited for every withdrawal I make on other bank’s ATM using my bank’s debit card. I was happy when I got to the ATM to find only one person waiting to use the ATM. After few minutes it was my turn. I slotted in my card, and as my custom is, I attempted to check my balance before making my withdrawal. I waited few seconds – 20seconds, 30seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 60 seconds, 1 minute 20 seconds! At this point, my heart sunk. My worst fear was dawning on me. And just as I feared, the machine ejected my card (by itself) and left a message on the screen “Issuer Inoperative”. Disappointed, I took my card and walked towards my car. As I was about easing myself into the seat of the car, I decided to dash to the other bank across the street and try again. Not that I was ignorant of what the message – issuer inoperative – implies, but I was desperate and just felt to give it another try. I was not surprised. The same message popped on the screen.
I stood there dejected and confused. The plan I had carefully laid out the night before, to accomplish my tasks was falling apart. Well, I simply went back to the office to attend to other issues. By 10am (after the weekly sanitation programme), I decided to head towards the ATM closest to the place I will be making some bulk purchases. When I approached the ATM, my heart dropped. The queue at the ATM was enough to make me want to turn back. But I decided otherwise. After about 13 minutes, it was finally my turn. I used the machine and left (my contact in my bank had earlier assured me that links were now working).
On my way back to the office, I had time to replay the whole events of the day in my head and that got me wandering why these sorts of disappointment have become a common experience amongst bank customers in Nigeria. Amongst many other supposed benefits, ATMs are designed to offer customers the convenience of multiple locations. Customers can withdraw cash at any bank that is part of the system to which your ATM card is linked. ATMs are faster than going to the bank—no long lines. Also, customers should be able to withdraw cash at any time, day or night – The banks don’t need to be open.
Sadly, the experience of bank customers in Nigeria is far in the contrary. Issues like ‘Issuer or switch inoperative’, temporarily unable to dispense cash’, outright blackout (power failure), or network-related issues, ‘make nonsense of the whole campaign for ATMs, cards and cash-less initiatives.”
During a particular festive season, Guardian Newspapers (April 2, 2013), reported that there were queues in banks for ATM transactions, with one machine being functional out of four, in most cases. With 11 different banks (some having two branches in the area), it was difficult to see two functional machines at any of the banks at a time, as some had problems ranging from interconnectivity with other banks, inability to dispense cash to outright network failure. Others had no cash.
The situation as witnessed today, when compared with the so called derivable benefits of the ATM and the condition specified by the Central Bank of Nigeria for installing ATMs by the banks is completely at variance with the ideal. The ATM as is being operated in Nigeria today is largely to the advantage of the financial institutions. With fewer customer queues in the banking hall (the queues have been transferred outside where the ATMs are located), fewer tellers are employed and paid. Meanwhile the Nigerian Consumers keeps bearing the brunt … while we wait for Godot.