By Etim Etim
A viral video of Daddy Freeze, the radio talk show host (real name: Ifedayo Olarinde) pillorying Zenith Bank for his inability to withdraw cash from the bank’s ATM over the holidays has struck a chord with many customers. In the video, Daddy Freeze is heard shouting, ‘’Come, Zenith Bank, I’m officially tired of this stupidity… I came here to withdraw money from this ATM, I put in my ATM card, and the next thing was ’Out of Service’…and my card was seized…’’. The rest of the video is full of uncomplimentary remarks about the bank which I do want to reproduce here. Incidentally, I am a customer of the bank, and I have a good idea of what Daddy Freeze was complaining about. But this piece is not all about my travails. Nigerians of different walk of life are used to unpleasant banking experiences, but sadly the frequency of out-of-service- messages at our ATMs is getting alarming. The authorities should come to our help.
Over the holidays, customers reported varying degrees of nasty experiences with their banks, and these bordered mostly on IT downtimes, crowded banking halls, cashless ATMs and glitches on internet payment platforms. I personally saw long queues of customers waiting hours on end at ATMs in Uyo and Abuja where I spent the holidays as people tried to withdraw cash. ‘’I have been moving from bank to bank since morning, but their ATMs are not working’’, a young lady agonized in Wuse 2 area of Abuja, on Boxing Day. In Uyo, where banks are concentrated in a well-designed dedicated area known as Banking Layout, queues at ATMs, especially at weekends, are common sights, but this holiday, the queues have transformed into rowdy crowds, creating a bedlam everywhere. At an airline office a few days before Christmas, officials turned me back because ‘’our POS has not been working today’’. The CBN should investigate and address the causes of these glitches, more so since the monetary authorities are taking steps to reduce the volume of cash in the economy and encourage less and less of its use as mode of payments.
But it is also commendable that a few banks did put in extra efforts to make customers’ experience more pleasant during the holidays. Access Bank, for example, was proactive enough to prepare for the season’s upsurge, and that explains why many customers flocked to its terminals. With 600 branches and service centers; over 300 ATMs and more than 160,000 agents that cater for its 52 million customers, including this writer, the bank was careful enough to avoid a backlash like the one Daddy Freeze provided.
I understand that Access had deployed a performance tracker across its platforms and reviewed it every hour to monitor the level of customers’ satisfaction. Some staffers were particularly put on standby to troubleshoot and load up the terminals throughout the season. Focus was on tracking and speedy resolution of any issues that arose. I salute the banks that went beyond the ordinary to take care of their customers.
I should note that most of these problems are not entirely the faults of the banks. The industry also has to contend with the inadequacies of technology infrastructure in the country. ‘’The central infrastructure that we share poses huge challenges to the electronic service we offer, but we keep seeking new ways to make things work better’’, says Access Bank’s chief executive, Roosevelt Ogbonna. Simply put, the quality of service from telecoms operators influences the quality of services that the banks provide. Over the holidays, Nigerians also complained of epileptic services from their network providers. It was a horrifying experience for me when internet services on my airtel line collapsed for up tom 24 hours. I had to quickly switch to an idle line.
I should also commend the millions of banking agents across the country that ensured that customers had cash when they needed. By my assessment, of all the initiatives that the CBN had introduced in the last ten years, the Anchor Borrowers Program and Agent Banking are the most positively impactful. As I said earlier, the CBN should look keenly into the problems at the ATMs and work with the banks to address the many incidents of out-of-service occurrences. The world is yet to find a replacement for banking!
Etim is a Journalist and Political Analyst, writes from Abuja