Recently, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to suspend the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card maintenance charges being deducted from customers. This resolution came as part of a motion on perceived illicit and excessive bank charges on customers’ accounts, sponsored by Senator Olugbenga Ashafa (Lagos East, APC).
The Senate also called on commercial banks operating in the country to configure their machines to dispense up to N40, 000 per withdrawal pending the outcome of the investigation by the Senate committees on excessive and illicit bank charges.
Speaking on the motion, the president of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki said the Senate will always support any motion that affects the lives of Nigerians. The Senate President stated that the Senate must work to ensure that the resolution on the excessive bank charges goes beyond the debate stage, so that whatever action the Upper Legislative Chamber takes would come into effect.
The Senate further directed its Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions to conduct an investigation into the propriety of ATM card maintenance charges in comparison with international best practices and report back to the Senate. In addition, it directed the committees to invite the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, to explain why official charges approved by the apex bank were always skewed in favour of the banking institutions and against customers and called on the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) to look into the various complaints of excessive and unnecessary charges by Nigerian banks.
The pervasive feeling of many bank customers in Nigeria is that banks have been declaring fat profits year in year out, yet the quality of their services as far as the banking public is concerned leaves much to be desired. From accusations made, the banks are not up and doing with regard to the need for them to deliberately embark on patriotic developmental roles. Banks are particularly accused of growing their loan book not caring about rendering quality service to their customers.
Bank customers have consistently complained about what they describe as excessive and arbitrary charges from the banks.
We applaud the Senate’s decision on ATM card charges as a step in the right direction. The banks send customers alerts for transactions in batches, with debits and commission broken into two. Yet, at the end of the day, the same customers are billed for these transactions. And what exactly are the banks maintaining in the ATM when customers pay for stolen or expired cards? Also, the banks send customers birthday and festive wishes, then later bill them for what is supposed to be a goodwill gesture from their banks.
It is imperative that bank customers get good value for their money and thereby be attracted to the banking sector so as to deepen the financial sector through enhanced financial inclusion which undergird the effectiveness of CBN policies. This explains why the CBN has a robust department whose main responsibility is consumer protection. Through that process many aggrieved customers have obtained satisfaction resulting often in refunds by banks where it was established that customers had been shortchanged. Therefore the CBN sees it as part of the requirement for a robust financial system when the satisfaction of customers as they relate with the banks is guaranteed. In our opinion, the CBN cannot be seen to deliberately want to shortchange the customer in favour of the banks as no interest will be served by so doing.
From this standpoint and without prejudice to the fact that it has apparently acquitted itself more creditably than some other regulators in the country, we call on the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) to treat the Senate directive that it should look into the various complaints of excessive and unnecessary charges by Nigerian banks with all the seriousness that it deserves.
We recognise the fact that banks are in business to create wealth for all the stakeholders of which the customers are key. We also want the banks to accept that without their customers, the motive for their being in business will be defeated. To that extent, therefore, the aphorism that the customer is king must be given relevance beyond mere words.
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