Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Pains of Authomatic Teller Machine (ATM)

Almost three years ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) successfully repositioned the country’s banking sector, in spite of vehement opposition from some interest groups and individuals. The exercise was christened Banking Consolidation. Since that exercise, the face and character of the industry have completely changed and for the better.Nigerian banks are now more customer-centred and creative. And one of the areas of manifest creativity is in their product development. Today, one of the vibrant products is the e-payment system called the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM).ATM, though has been in existence in some more advanced economies, especially in Europe and the USA. It is an electronic device, which enables automatic financial transactions without the traditional hassles and troubles of the banking hall. It needs no telling that this system of banking transaction is an ingenious one. For, apart from avoiding the headache of the banking hall, it makes it possible to have access to cash during non-banking periods, including weekends and public holidays. Propensity to carry large sums of money, more than one needs at a particular time, is also eliminated. Equally important is the fact that, with the presence of ATM facility, the risk of carrying cash about is reduced and this also tends to answer the call for a cashless economy. No doubt, the benefits of the system are many and any country that operates it seamlessly, is indeed much better for it. In Nigeria, the system has been enthusiastically embraced. It has not only enhanced the sophistication of the average banking Nigerian, but it has also made life easier. It is indeed a welcome phenomenon, which is even taken for granted by other countries where it has existed for decades now. However, we are a bit disturbed by certain experiences of customers who transact their banking business through this payment system.Stories of unpleasant experiences have been about in recent times. Instead of enjoying the advantages that this innovation confers, customers are increasingly becoming its victims. Users have varied disappointing tales, ranging from non-availability of cash in the machine, debiting more than dispensed and in some cases, debiting for payments not successfully made. Yet, some complain that instead of the requested amount, the machine dispenses far less and yet, debits against the requested sum. It is a multitude of complaints and they come by their degrees.Evidently, this is not what the promoters intend it to be. They obviously did not design the system to work with fits and starts or to give patrons hard times. These definitely cannot be the idea. This has been on for decades in other countries and it has been working without the hitches and the headaches the Nigerian banking public is experiencing. We can imagine the frustration and the fate of someone who is stranded in a strange town or city and unable to access the ATM because of some technical difficulties or for whatever reason or reasons. Some have traced all of this to the familiar Nigerian factor, a factor that tends to pervert any and every good thing that other countries even take for granted. Much as we wouldn’t want to have the same conclusion for the fact that the system is new with us and also for the parlous nature of our infrastructure, especially electricity, we believe that the promoters would have expected these hitches and hiccups, to have planned against them ahead of time. Banking drives on the virtuous wheels of integrity, trust, predictability and confidence. When these are absent, the whole principle and sanctity of banking come under serious question and in fact, there would be no basis for banking. While we therefore appeal to banks to work hard and fast at perfecting the system, we ask that the CBN goes beyond its recent show of concern in this issue. The system is very good if the banks can deal with these put-offs. If it can work successfully in other countries of even less economic and social sophistication, there is no reason why it should not work in Nigeria.

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