Nigeria’s apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in their wisdom, gave approval for the introduction of the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) into the Nigerian market in 1989. The first ATM in Nigeria, according to records, was installed by the National Cash Registers (NCR) for the defunct Societe Generale Bank Nigeria (SGBN) in 1989. However, bank customers were subtly made to embrace the use of the ATM as a channel for withdrawal of cash below N100, 000 in tranches, as a means of eradicating the risks associated with going about with large sums of cash. The introduction of the ATM to the Nigerian banking sector, no doubt, was a laudable concept. It was intended to save bank customers of different statuses the agony of wasting endless time in queues in the banking halls before accessing cash because banking operations globally is all about efficient service delivery.
The financial eggheads who mooted the idea of the ATM knew in their hearts of hearts the meaning of change being the only constant phenomenon, and perhaps were also mindful of the fact that the Nigerian banking sector needed thorough re-engineering to put it on a par with digital banking operations worldwide. They were convinced that sweeping technological innovations across the globe had eliminated the hiccups associated with the Nigerian banking system of the pre-ATM era, particularly regarding the needless hardships bank customers were put through before they could access cash in their savings and/or current accounts. Truth be told, the administrative encumbrances of the Nigerian banking system of the pre-ATM era was so upsetting that many savings and/or current account holders would have opted for the option of digging holes in their homes for safekeeping of cash than going to the banking halls for whatever transactions.
And because of the many setbacks that typified banking operations in Nigeria as of the time, not a few Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief that the era of going to the banking halls with mats, while waiting for the roll call by bank cashiers to disburse cash across the counter was over. The coming of the ATM promised many derivable advantages to the prospective users. To start with, its arrival put paid to the habit of turning our homes into vaults, thereby becoming vulnerable to unpredictable attacks by those ‘whose stock -in -trade is to reap where they have not sown’. The device abolished the apprehension of many bank customers, who before the coming of the ATM, had to run helter-skelter in order to gain entry into the banking halls before the traditional 4: p.m. closure of business transactions to customers of all categories.
The convenience of accessibility to cash at all times without recourse to the banking halls, except for other banking activities, is one of the supposed merits of the ATM. Besides, the device was also intended to facilitate transfer of cash from one account to another, particularly for business transactions in seconds, payment of bills and services, checking of account balances, changing the PIN whenever the need arises, among others. Over time, however, experience has shown that many users of the ATM are still grappling with multifarious problems in the bid to access cash in their accounts through the device. There is the intermittent issue of network failure, which is becoming a peculiar snag of the device and often resulting in long queues of customers with anxiety written on their faces, at many locations of the cash dispensers. And this lapse has more often than not culminated in unnecessary migration of bank customers from one ATM location to another in the bid to withdraw cash for immediate needs, especially at weekends and during festive periods. I recall a near fistfight scene between two impatient customers sometime in December 2017, over a silly attempt by one of them to outsmart the others in order to withdraw cash from the device because he was angry at the seeming operational pace of the device. Suffice to say that the scenario would have led to a sad tale had the security guards on duty not mediated in the faceoff.
Disturbing, again, is the negligence by some banks to making sure the device is continually loaded with enough cash to cater for mass withdrawal by the public, not only during banking hours but also on public holidays and even festive periods. Any bank that is truly desirous of serving public interest through the ATM mode should make adequacy of cash in the device its watchword. Nothing could be more frustrating than moving from one ATM location to another with each of them singing the same nauseating tune of inability to dispense cash. What is worth doing at all, they say, is worth doing well, and time they say is a slippery phenomenon. No one at this age and time would want to be subjected to trepidation on account of wanting to access little cash at any ATM location, which in most cases might not be commensurate with the time spent on long queues. Or shall we, again, begin to go with mats to ATM points even if one wants to withdraw N1, 000 for paltry domestic expense, an irksome reminiscence of the pre-ATM era?
This piece, therefore, should serve as a wake-up call to some old generation commercial banks to be alive to their core responsibility of discharging value added service (VAS) to their teeming customers as well as doing the needful by replacing their cash dispensers that have become decrepit. Commercial banks in this fold should follow in the footsteps of other leading banks which treat their customers as ‘kings’ through installation of new ATMs as well as increasing their number. More important is the need for urgent public enlightenment of the public on the step-by-step modus operandi to accessing cash from the ATM without delay. Assuming that majority of the people that thronged cash dispensers (ATMs) on per second basis are thoroughly knowledgeable about the coded data of the device is a fallacy. It is worthy of note that this non-requisite knowledge has, on many occasions, made many unsuspecting people easy preys for scammers who in the bid to come to the rescue of non-literate ATM users, cash in on such opportunity for fraudulent gains. Pray you do not fall victim because only those who had been swindled through such deceitful means could tell the story better. The time to rid the Nigerian banking sector of all manner of blemishes in this 21st century is now!
- Oshokha is on the staff of the Nigerian Tribune.