Gen X, Gen Y and millennials grew up to know NEPA (a former acronym for Power Holding Company of Nigeria) to be synonymous with bad services. Most of them, now in their mid-life have added banks to the top of that list!
In a 2020 report, complaints about bank services made up 33 per cent — a third — of all cases filed by consumers to the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, FCCPC, between January and September 2020.
Ofcourse, they are followed closely by their famous cohort, electricity and power companies (at 21%). Banks are now established to be Nigerians biggest problems in terms of service delivery.
Most of the complaints that went on to the FCCPC were the thousands of unresolved issues that bank customers were left to gag on, since there is a seemly belief that there is no consequence for their unscrupulous practices.
Freelanews spoke to some Deposit Money Banks customers, who shared their recent experiences with some of these banks. A summary of their testimonies showed that most customers are exasperated at the apathy of the banks and their debasing, stereotypical and sometimes classist approach to resolving complaints, even more than the actual poor service delivery they are made to deal with. The most common trigger to these nightmarish experiences is the rampant service failures on digital platforms and banks’ failure to adhere to the CBN guidelines (Guidelines for the Operation of Electronic Payment Channels) in their resolution.
The most recently communicated position to that effect was the CBN’s Press Release of June 1, 2020 (CBN Revises Timelines for Dispense Errors, Refund Complaints), which stipulates are follows:
1. Failed “On-Us” ATM transactions (when customers use their cards on their bank’s ATMs) shall be instantly reversed from the current timeline of three (3) days. Where instant reversal fails due to any technical issue or system glitch, the timeline for manual reversal shall not exceed 24 hours.
2. Refunds for failed “Not-on-Us” ATM transactions (where customers use their cards on other banks’ ATMs) shall not exceed 48 hours from the current 3-5 days.
3. Resolution of disputed/failed PoS or Web transactions shall be concluded within 72 hours from the current five (5) days.
4. All banks are directed to resolve backlog of all ATM, POS and Web customer refunds within two weeks starting June 8, 2020
Banks have consistently violated, to vile glory, these directives without any repression. There are thousands of tart tales by thousands of customers sweeping from social platforms, to discussion boards, Whatsapp groups and at best, formal complaints to FCCPC. Yet these ‘celeb corporations’ are not a little bothered.
Below we share only two recent testimonies to provide background for our quest to decipher this anomaly:
Polaris Bank Vs Polytechnic lecturer
A hardworking lecturer at Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), who didn’t want his name in mentioned unless it becomes necessary, lamented his experience in the hands of Polaris Bank, a bank that has always been in the press for uncomplimentary reasons.
According to him, his salary account was debited of two hundred thousand naira since May 2021 a failed POS transaction to a Union Bank account and all attempts to get the funds reversed has proved abortive.
Despite complaints to the Innocent Ike-led bank in Ikorodu, nothing has been done 5months after. He was told severally that his case has been escalated to the head office, which was alleged to still be working on it, each time he demanded for the status of his reversal.
“Polaris bank dey owe me since May oooooo. Polaris don suffer me, I swear.
“It is my salary account. I have been with the bank for 18 years, since the days of cooperative bank, before the merger. I have escalated it on all their platforms known to me.
“I have escalated it at Ikorodu branch. My account officer was referring me to the headquarters. I used a POS at first gate. It was a transfer, it declined. But I was debited,” he lamented.
Find below his formal communication with the bank.
[COMMUNICATION WITH POLARIS CUSTOMER CARE]
Kindly find below the details of the failed transaction:
Account name: S***** A** A********.
Transaction date: Saturday, 8th May, 2022.
Card type: Visa
Amount: N200, 000
Terminal ID: 20007407
Type of transaction: POS to Union Bank account.
I am becoming impatient on this matter, because it is gonna be two months in few days.
Thank you in anticipation of your positive response.
Till now, the bank is yet to refund his money.
Zenith Bank Vs Femi Akintunde-Johnson
Femi Akintunde-Johnson, popularly called FAJ, a veteran journalist with feet deep in the industry, also fall victim of failed transaction.
In a post made on his official Facebook handle and unlike the university lecturer, FAJ’s money has been seized by Zenith Bank for over six weeks now.
“Abeg…who knows someone with a good ear in Zenith Bank? It’s been over six weeks since they refused to refund my money trapped through “cash dispense error” on an ATM.
“The last word was: “Please be assured that resolution would be provided soon as claim is receiving due attention…”. It was signed by Chisom Nwosu. That was August 4!
“I no want trouble o…just return my small money… Ehen!” he wrote.
Freelanews found it of grave importance to do some further digging into this problem, with a goal of pointing out the factors behind the phony behavior of Nigerian banks towards their customers. Insider information highlighted some major reasons below:
Customer-induced stress on agents
A seasoned banker and customer service representative with a leading bank in Nigeria blamed the shoddy services on the challenges that comes with attending to different types of customers every other day. He inferred that satisfying a majority of the customers in the Nigeria context is a herculean task.
He painted the scenario of a typical day whereby they would have to deal with different characters in various mental and emotional states from as early as 8am.
“A lot of the times, some customers come in with ‘ogogoro’ and cigarettes oozing out from all angles and you are instructed to be nice and fair to them. Most of these set are even either ignorant of the processes or completely misinformed, so they come with insatiable expectations and a huge ego.
“Dealing with these types fairly is almost impossible and then there’s a crop of the ‘good customers’ scattered among them and you have to master the art of stabilizing your own emotion and distributing attention without fail. That is an uphill task.”
He suggested more rotational work time, to allow customer service representatives some time off during the worktime to ease off the tension. He also suggested improved design in the workspace to improve queuing and reduce proximity to CS agents. He said COVID-19 protocols really helped them in performing better.
Freelanews also gathered that poor remuneration is major factor contributing to the substandard support services Nigerians receive at their banks. Some banks are said to be paying a paltry N40,000 to their customer-facing staff! A total disaster!
Poor remuneration results in poor motivation, which translates into the shabby attitudes of the CS agents. One can imagine how impossible it will be for a staff who is under tremendous financial stress to meticulously provide support and attend to sometimes, furious customers, without an outburst or show of apathy.
While Wema Bank is alleged to be paying CS agents even below N40,000, it was reported that the bank and Guaranty Trust Bank hold about 80% of the customer-facing staff as contract workers! A recipe for a disastrous customer service experience.
Most Nigerian banks are in a tight contest to win the title of the most profitable bank in Nigeria. The desire to satisfy investors is at the heart of their strategic plan. They employ all avenues to cut cost, accrue more income and invest in high-yielding ventures. This paradigm puts them at odds with the crux of genuine customer satisfaction and fairness.
Amongst the over 72million customers banks have, their services are setup to prioritise and satisfy the high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) and big corporate account holders at the expense of the average customer. In one banker’s response to the query on poor customer services, he went on a tirade, insinuating that most customers ‘with their small account balance want to be treated like kings when they come to the banking hall”. That “THE REAL CUSTOMERS THAT GIVE BANKS PROFIT may not even visit the bank in 5 years”.
This mindset x-rays the partisan patronage that happens at most Nigerian banks. If you are not a HNWI, you are not worth their time and attention.
More so, banks are cutting funding for training and retraining, adequate staffing and more investment in infrastructures that will reduce poor service delivery, particularly in areas of technology and customer service.
Successfully putting a call trough to customer support lines of banks now requires skillful planning spiced with a huge portion of luck, because they are not scaling staff strength to meet the exponential increase in their customer base. To them, it’s of economic advantage to peg the cost while the revenue grows, a model fit only for plunders.
Political connections of promoters
The excesses of banks are supposed to be spotted and redressed by the regulator, the Central Bank of Nigeria. But besides hunting down violations that touches on the government’s interest, the CBN has remained quite indulging in the obvious disregard of its directives by banks, particularly as it pertains to customer satisfaction. They do these things, and nothing happens, they make it seem normal and here we are with a situation where customers can only hold their cases to the recourse of fate.
Freelanews gathered that most promoters of banks are cronies of major political office holders. In fact, most of Nigerian banks have interests traceable to the powers that be. Therefore, it is a ghost chase to expect a firm reprimand, when the interests and rights of the average citizen is trampled upon bare-faced. It is only another case of the powerful throttling the lowly, like its culture in our larger society.
Poor direct feedback system to the regulator
Though the CBN has put out a publication to offer Nigerian bank customers a means of seeking redress when poor customer service persists (by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or calling +234 7002255226), professionals have judged that system ineffective, because of extended wait time for any valuable response and the forever loop of email correspondences that at best, persuades the banks to solve the problem, but without the penalty, and so the plundering continues.
Experts consulted by Freelanews suggest a more pragmatic approach, where CBN creates an electronic complaint board with forms, whose data, when completed, gets added to a stream that is visible on the portal.
The portal should have a dashboard of five banks with the most complaints and another section showing resolved issues and the penalties that have been effected. This transparent system will make the banks more cautious and weary of being dragged to the board, which will represent a sort of court of public opinion. Bank’s PR team will definitely advise their principals against getting into such dirt, a motivation to better handle complaints and invest in swift resolution infrastructure and systems.
Sir Walton, the founder of the famous retail chain, Walmart, once said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else”.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case on this subject matter, because the ‘somewhere else’ provides yet another version of the customer’s horrible experience and the only logical boycott is cash stockpiling, which portends a great danger to Nigeria’s economic future in this digital age.