Discursion on financial inclusion and digitalisation of financial services has been on, with interesting participation of experts who have taken their time to try and carry Nigerians along with them in their path of expertise. It is particularly interesting because, as I see it, though the efforts come across as proactive and a lead-on into the future, over 95 per cent of Nigerians across socio-economic divides or classification, are left out in the process. Some tech watchers say the outcome is due to low literacy rate among us, while some others think it is the lack of depth and appreciation of the Nigerian psyche among the proponents. The argument continues as we read.
Suffice to say, therefore, the education and enlightenment designed to help launch us into digital ecosystem, is not delivering on the critical good as may be anticipated. One hopes this will change overtime.
On the flip side, the core primary target of this new wave, the banks and other financial institutions, telecom service providers, payment platform owners/operators, are on the one hand faster in playing the catch-up on the new technology, albeit too slow to fully appropriate the full benefits of adequate knowledge and orientation, and on the other, intimidating lesser mortals who themselves have caged into a need-set that defines their innovative market, with their ‘expertise.’The common denominator for this class of participants is Quick Financial Gains. They replicate the dangers of the banking wiz-kids in the 1980s/90s; a culture of predatory capitalisation based on ignorance. Rather than apply themselves to the good in the system and mitigate the implication attendant upon the inherent negatives, they do otherwise, completely.
My observation concerning intellectual resource acquisition among Nigerians is that we are basically lazy at it. Rather than bother ourselves with the troubles, we seek short-cuts to enable us go past the ‘low ceiling’, anyhow. That explains the poor rating of our academic system and infrastructure in global rating. Curricula are designed for just certification and let-my-people-go. It is same with capacity building for business engagement. We would rather that the system is running at its barest than break ceilin through innovation and functional creativity.
The commercial banks in Nigeria make me laugh all the more. They are so lazy; they disgrace themselves on all fronts, regardless. I carefully read the interview Marcel Mbamalu (News Editor, The Guardian, had with Dr Olayinka David-West on digital financing and its contribution to increasing productivity (published in The Guardian of Wednesday January 3, 2018), as though I was studying a thesis. My interest was the framework of the digital technology as a new learning. To me, it is very important because it is the new direction for the totality of business as it is. My take from that interview is that digital financing and financial inclusion (the critical issues raised there) exist in the context of technological innovativeness, Nigerians would have to bring themselves up-to-speed to identify with. Presently, less than 15 per cent of our population (I won’t refer to them as infinitesimal because they are presently holding on to a lethal weapon too dangerous to be in the care of a few, for its potency) are presently atop with its system and operation. They are also aware that the ecosystem is ill-equipped (digital economy infrastructure) well enough for them to play god over the rest of us.
So, the small clique hurry up with profitability, system abuse, cost minimisation and profit optimisation at the expense of the rest of us ignoramus. So, as I have always said, the commercial banks pass the entire cost of their operations to the customers in form of commission and other charges for using the limited digital platforms forced on them for those services the banks should ordinarily provide at no extra cost.
AIRTEL’S Additional N10
The telecommunications platform has become the backbone of all bank transactions, whether money transfer, withdrawal, payment and purchases. Therefore, the banks have built their operations on them, and redesigned their customer service system and orientation to compel customer dependence.
I have always talked about the cost implication of this so-called digital banking service orientation on consumers, as it lays on them, the entire burden in terms of cost. Add to that, the banking system and businesses have stylishly absolved themselves of their responsibilities to their customers. The entire system now runs on hidden charges and cost components that put the customer at colossal loss.
Guaranty Trust Bank came up with the easy self-service platform called *737#, frontally positioned as a stress-free customer self-service initiative, to enable them carry out any type of transaction at the comfort of place and time. The convenience is cool; the sophistication is interesting and ego-tapping. So, we all embraced it.
The way it works is that the customer dials the service code from the mobile phone number registered against his/her account with the bank, for access to the account. Thereon, transaction of interests can be done. For every transaction, the bank charges certain percentage as commission, which is shared between the bank and the particular mobile service provider for the registered telephone number that is operated. It can only be imagined the size of revenue this platform alone attracts for the bank, taking into account the population that engages it.
Accessing this bank service code is supposedly Free, as promoted.
For some time, it operated free of cost to customers, meaning that the only deductions applicable is the service charge or commission on transaction, for using the code or platform. But systematically, AIRTEL sneaked and added cost of N10 into the total cost outlay for the customer, without the user’s knowledge, information or notice (as has been observed by an AIRTEL subscriber). Because the ‘additional’ cost is just N10, perhaps AIRTEL thought nobody would notice. Sadly, somebody did and he is now telling his story everywhere he goes. Interestingly, he took his time to conclude on his findings, painstakingly repeating the ‘purchase’ time and again, to be sure.
According to him, each time a GTB customer attempts to log into *737# platform on the AIRTEL platform, the service provider deducts N10 from his account. Now, it so happens that access is denied most of the time, and so for every attempt, AIRTEL takes N10 from his account. If this is true, can you imagine how many N10s go into AIRTEL’s account aside its earning from the transaction from providing the communication platform? The issues include also, pre-information; why did the network not communicate this to its subscribers prior?
It may interest GTBank to know that it is losing market share to other banks for this reason. Also, AIRTEL is losing subscribers to competition (as at now though, our finding is that another service telecom provider is also suspected in this direction (we are still yet to confirm).
To note, the National Communication Commission forbids any form of hidden charges by the TELCOs.
Our position is that digitalising the financial system requires deeper appreciation and engagement to be safe and all-inclusive. Until we can muster the courage to invest in adequately building the necessary infrastructure, the relevant authorities should protect the public from system abuse that will expose Consumers to huge losses. We intend to engage AIRTEL for this finding if they will talk to us, but this customer’s experience is only an indication of possible conflict of interests within the digital finance space.
Whereas we are not conclusive on what the issue is with AIRTEL deductions as narrated above, we think something is likely to have gone wrong, and stakeholders, especially regulatory authorities need to get to work.
As Consumer Rights Advocate, We Invite The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) To A Discussion On This Topical Issue.