Characteristic of innovative technology-based product offerings, the card-money market is shrouded in mystery of sophistication, alien to the everyday understanding of the critical segment of its market. Starting from its physical attributes, card money challenges the over 70 per cent of its users on usage, application and value appreciation. Interestingly, the bulk of its market is the population of barely literates, limited in capacity of rational appreciation over emotional connect and appreciation; rather than dwell on the rationality of card-money, over 75 per cent of its users in the ‘C – D’ social economic groups especially, celebrate its style and sophistication. Over 80 per cent of this class of users cannot use these cards at point of sale or the Automatic Teller Machines (ATM), without assistance, not to mention the ability to question value rating and appreciation.
Consumer profile and position, therefore, begs the issue of competitive engagement among the brands operative in the market. We shall run through the critical considerations that may help market interaction in the interest of the consumer (users).
The Market: Gradually, Nigeria is gravitating towards cashless economy, expanding the market for tech-based innovative instruments such as the card money (debit, credit and prepaid cards). Infrastructures such as point of sales payment machines, automatic teller machines and online payment systems are gaining presence and familiarity among the hitherto unfamiliar users. In spite of the poor state of electricity and constraints of large data transfer system, the entire virtual money system is appreciating in knowledge gap reduction and user-familiarity, supporting the introductory stage of the ‘new’ market.
Add to its infrastructure, the banks and other financial institutions’ support is also a major growth support; largely new users recruit and user-loyalty is anchored on these institutions who systematically force engagement and usage on unsuspecting customers. Present size of market is put at over 85 per cent of account bank holders across categories (higher than active users). Its revenue earning potential is 100 per cent of ownership at the base consideration, with greater earning potentials on usage/application. It, therefore, posts huge market potentials for market operators.
Its value-essence and promise is Convenience.

Until the turn of age in the money/finance market, financial transactions were more cumbersome. As with telecommunication, process management was tasking on time, location and physical presence. Innovations have brought about ease of funds transfer, payment for purchases and relationship management. It gave rise to new businesses such as online retailing covering a previously unanticipated wide spectrum of commercial activities ranging from travels and tours, entertainment, music, fashion and many others. It has also stretched creativity among the youth population, redefining what is commonly referred as the ‘hustle pattern.’
The Intricacies: The pluses are many, but so are the ‘uncertainties. Among the many questions are the following:
How much is the cost of this offering to the Consumer?
Who determines the choice of card?

How much of the consumer’s decision is permitted in the extent of usage (in relation to cost) – renewal, etc?
How much of consumer-focused brand engagement imperatives are the brands responsible for (brand building & development, brand support/promotion and marketing communication)?
By how much are the card-money brands compliant with established consumer rights protection requirements (consumer information and enlightenment)?
How much of consumer welfare investment do the brands invest in consumer reward promotion, etc?
As brand management & marketing communication consultants, our concerns with the card-money market bother on the evident compromises that represent the red flags on the areas of free market, consumer-centrism and competitive open market. From the point of user-recruitment, consumer engagement is not permitted the freedom of choice. Playing on the awareness gap on the part of consumers, generally, the ‘atm card’ application procedure, is presented to the uninformed new user as a total package of the account opening procedure. More compromising is the ‘in-your-own-best-interest’ impression created around the totally extra-demand made at the Consumer in the form of innovative service delivery.
The way we see it, behind the sold benefit of convenience sold to the user, the ultimate benefactors are the banks and the card brand owners, as the cost of operations, which reduces the banks’ operation costs and enlarges earnings of the card companies, is financed by the user. At the point of engagement, the customer neither considers the cost-implication of the new introduction nor is advised by the issuer. In most cases, the bank customer is even guided on how to comply with the procedure leading to the issuance of money card. That explains the automatic renewal of ATM cards; in perpetuation of patronage, assured market.
Furthermore, that explains the low level of competitive brand promotion and consumer-focused marketing communication among the card brands. To a large extent, their entire market development efforts end with the banks and other online money systems that feed their marketing objectives. So, whereas the end-user funds the system, buying, decision-making process is determined by the vendors (in this case the banks/financial institutions). Therefore, whatever concessions are to be made in the form of consumer reward promotion, as is with the standard commercial brands, end at the level of the banks.

We need to know the cost of ATM cards to the user, the benefits in real terms, how much of consumers’ interest is considered in the market operation, the space of free competition among the card brands in the market and options open to the consumer as with commercial brands operating in the free competitive market…the questions are many, requiring answers from the relevant authorities, regulatory bodies. We would seek answers from the card money market operators, going forward. Until then, we like to leave this with all card-money users: ask your issuing bank to what extent its middle-man trade position is costing you extra money and the options open to you without losing out on your right of convenient banking services.
We, at MC&A DIGEST, shall seek more answers from the brands and ‘trade’ going forward. Visa Card (says): they “…do not issue cards but rather provide financial institutions with Visa branded payment products (Credit card, Debit card and/or prepaid card) to serve their customers.” According to them still, these cards are useful payment products that can be used to make payments and receive payment anywhere Visa is accepted…but we like to know how much of consumer rights is protected there-in.

Under-banked Consumers
I was in Owerri, capital of Imo State, from July 23 to 26, 2018, and I didn’t have to do much to observe the very poor banking environment in that historic city. What I experienced is similar to what I once experienced in Warri, Delta State, sometime in March, this year.
In form of news report, on Orlu Road, in Owerri, there is a concentration of banks, which position is conspicuous for the large population of customers at the Automatic Teller Machine locations. It is appalling that theswe machines are grossly inadequate, and the prevailing situation is an assault on the banking population in the city. How do you explain a situation where of an array of four to six ATMs, only one would be working? As a result, it is common sight to see a population of 60 people queuing up to use one ATM.
If the banks cannot maintain the self-service banking service, they should please revert to the across-the-counter customer service…instead of the present dehumanising system where people will have to queue up for up to 90 minutes, taking turns to use an ATM.