COVID-19 AND THE NIGERIAN BANKING EXPERIENCE
COVID 19 has ushered Nigeria into extremely difficult and largely uncharted waters. Banks are not left out in these trying times, as they joggle sustaining banking activities, reducing pressures on revenue and debt sustainability, managing pressure on exchange rate and dealing with a drastic reduction in credit requests as global liquidity tightens while purchasing power of customers reduces. Household income has been negatively impacted, as economic activities have slowed down. However, I chose not to center on the harsh economic impact of the pandemic in the Nigerian Banking Sector. Today is about customer service, the banks modus operandi and how the average Nigerian has been hit badly through their various banks: how the suffering has cascaded from the economy, to the bank and down to the customer.
I needed some bank statements stamped and signed by an authorized personnel. I had avoided all forms of banking activities, strictly observing social distancing as required by the government, but to get the bank statements signed, I had no other choice but to go to the bank. My plan was to dash in, get my signed statements and continue with the rest of my activities for that day, so I went to the bank as early as 8. I was confronted with a large crowd in the bank, and I wondered how people still came in drones to carry out banking activities. From the information I gathered, they too came for banking transactions that couldn’t be carried out through the internet. Some were there to pick up their ATM cards, a couple of others to resolve wrongful debit/credit transactions, and some others to get bank statements, just like me. To my annoyance, I ended up leaving the banking hall by 4p.m, with a large bevy of customers who were never unattended to. As I walked past other banks closeby, I was confronted with a similar crowd, shouting on top of their voices, each demanding that the banking officer attend to them individually. I shook my head in dismay.
It is no hidden fact that carrying out tasks in Nigeria, as simple as finding a means of transportation, is very herculean, and sadly, banking activities fall into this radar. Truthfully, the large crowd in the bank could easily have been avoided, if there were alternative banking systems that do not require a physical presence. I need not have been there if it were possible to get electronic bank statements. The customers shouting on top of their voices would not have been so angry if they were confident that complains made through calls to the customer care unit would be treated efficiently (that is if the call goes through, discussion for another day). Lightico, a solution based company based in Sweden has been successful in providing banks easy made banking activities that can allow them complete forms, submit documents, open and sign using e-signatures through a click on your mobile phone. In 2016, the CBN launched the Nigerian Financial Inclusion Strategy to promote formal banking, thus increasing the customer base of commercial banks but Covid-19 has exposed the Nigerian banking sector’s lackadaisical attitude to embracing e–banking to ensure customers satisfaction.
If any of the banks in Nigeria adopted this application, I could have carried out that transaction from the comfort of my bed. With this application, customers no longer have to pay a potentially stress inducing visit to a physical branch to complete any transaction, from opening an account to applying for a loan.
For those that still visit banking halls, have you seen how the crowds do not observe social distancing, with their sweaty bodies under the hot sun? These are the supposed jet age Nigerians that roar like ferocious lions on social media, but lack the ability to carry out bank transactions with these same devices. The fact is, when these individuals go to the bank in their streaming numbers, chances are that they were encouraged to visit the banking halls, by these same banking operators. This is an issue.
Make no mistake, no matter how attractive online banking is, some group of people will always resist its full embrace, like many elderly people and people adverse to change. Efforts should be made to accommodate these excesses. It could be as easy as sending text messages to customers, to control the number of walk in customers in the banking halls. At the least, everyone receives a text message, no matter how ancient the phone is. More than frequently, customized bank calls should be made to provide an over the phone digital banking training to customers who are not familiar with the operations of digital technology. Similarly, branch and call centre staff should take the pains of identifying customers who are not familiar with online operations and help them through the processes. These measures are very attainable, it only takes the dedication of a bank that puts its customer first before anything else, to navigate the process.
A plea to Nigerian banks, please let us put in the work!