This is not the best of times for the Nigerian banking system. From a distrusted customer base to failing and unreliable service delivery and dissatisfied core staff, the industry is currently plagued with a plethora of challenges that require urgent attention. Ironically, these challenges have arisen, in the main, from the local industry’s embrace of technology in line with the global trend and in order to improve the quality and speed of its services to customers.
At a time when the industry should be offering cutting-edge, multi-channel services to its rising customers, the operators have found themselves hamstrung by company-specific and system-wide impediments. The sorry state of the industry has left its customers dissatisfied, and if urgent remedies are not found, the nation’s banking sector could find itself regressing in a matter of years.
The poor service delivery by the banks today manifests in various ways, including poor cash dispensing at the ATMs; incomplete PoS transactions, whereby a bank customer goes to a vendor and slots in his or her debit card into the PoS device, and after some minutes, the system gives a “decline” message, which means that the transaction has failed. Meanwhile, the bank would have debited that customer’s account, but the vendors disagree and refuse to hand over the goods to the customer because, to them, the goods have not been paid for.
It is the same frustration that customers face when they transfer money to other people, whether from the banking apps on their phones or through the ATMs that now dot our urban centres. Here, various scenarios play out: sometimes there is no service or network, so nothing works at all; sometimes the customer goes through the whole process of sending money electronically, but at the end, he or she gets an error message, like “An error occurred, transaction not completed’, or “Transaction failed”. Sometimes, the sender gets a success message indicating that the transaction was completed successfully, yet the receiver waiting at the other end does not receive the money sent, sometimes even when the sender has been debited.
These incidences defeat the whole purpose of the migration to digital banking and the cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria. It promised speed and safety by eliminating the trouble of carrying cash. The cashless policy has encouraged Nigerians to migrate to the e-channels for banking transactions.
The banks’ systems have slowed down considerably and industry analysts blame this squarely on inadequate infrastructure in the system to support the deluge of traffic that is being diverted to the electronic channels.
To be able to carry the volume of traffic that is coming on their networks now, the banks obviously need to invest massively in infrastructure, especially the Internet bandwidth. ICT experts have also warned that the Internet bandwidths that the banks subscribe to are too small for the volume of traffic that currently runs on their networks.
The solution is clear; the banks must invest more in their ICT infrastructure if they hope to end this challenge. We, hereby, call on the banks to embark on this without further delay. Indeed, they have no reason to shy away from this because they are making money from the migration to the digital platform. Every transaction is a revenue-generating activity, so it serves their interests to strengthen their infrastructure.
Even if they did not plan to undertake such an upgrade now, the current situation in the country, brought about by the push for a cashless policy, has made this imperative. It smacks of double standards when the banks (and their regulator, the CBN), say they are pursuing a cashless policy when the requisite infrastructure is not in place.
They are also operating in an environment that is constantly under attack, which requires that they regularly upgrade their systems’ security architecture to stay ahead of hackers.
Meanwhile, the banks are currently going through a haemorrhage of sorts through what has been described as a “massive japa” or emigration of their ICT staff. Among the professions being hard-bit by this national malaise is the information technology industry. With opportunities easily available to them in the Western World, India, and other places, these professionals have found it quite convenient to leave the country at the slightest chance they get.
This is having a tremendous effect on the banking industry. In some cases, as much as 98 per cent of banks’ IT staff have “run away” from the country. The consequence is that the few remaining hands are overstretched. In some cases, one staff now is carrying jobs meant for as many as 20 people, according to industry sources. In some cases, the E-channel desks have nobody to man them, so when servers are down, there are not enough technical hands to handle the case as an urgent matter.
There is, therefore, an urgent need for banks to review their employment policies, with a view to devising ways of retaining ICT staff. In this era of digital banking, with technology providing the backbone, they cannot do otherwise. All efforts must be done to improve services otherwise Nigerians will be discouraged from the internet banking the government appears to be very keen on.