STORIES By Udeme Clement,
If Nigerians heed the call by the Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON) and Coalition of Nigerian Consumer Protection Associations, banks across the country, on Tuesday, March 1, will be empty.
The group wants Nigerians to boycott the banks on that day in protest against alleged arbitrary charges imposed on customers by the financial institutions. This is coming weeks after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) imposed N50 on customers as compulsory stamp duty on deposits of N1,000 and above. The charge, however, is collected on behalf of NIPOST and the Federal Government and it goes to the Federation Account. Only last week, the CBN said it got banks across the country to return excess charges, estimated at N6.2billion, to customers.
Our investigations revealed that, aside normal bank charges associated with daily transactions, depositors are exposed to many hidden charges as well as what financial experts described as arbitrary charges.
Charges enormous – Mikail, Shareholders Association boss
In a chat, the National President, Constance Shareholders Association of Nigeria, Mr. Shehu Mikail, explained that the banks are facing a lot of challenges in the operating environment, saying, however, that this does not justify some of the charges. He said, “The reality is that, banks have to collect certain charges to sustain their operations, in order to remain in business. They have to pay their staff, give dividends to shareholders and carry out general maintenance of their facilities. The banks spend a lot of money to buy diesel daily to generate power due to erratic electricity supply in the country. So, at the end of month, they transfer some of the costs to customers as bank charges. We are not saying that banks should not collect charges from customers, because they need some of these charges to stay afloat in business. But the issue is that, the charges are so enormous and, if not checked, may have adverse effect on the cashless monetary policy already in place. For instance, a large part of Nigeria is still un-banked, and if these numerous charges are not curtailed, many people who are already using the services of banks may stop patronising them”.
Responding to what the Bankers Committee, which often meet to examine issues in the financial sector, is doing currently to tackle the challenges in the sector, he said, “It is clear that the Bankers Committee, at present, does not know exactly what to do, in order to turn around the financial sector of the economy, especially in the issue of forex crisis rocking the sector. So, deliberate and consistent government policies are needed to restructure the sector for greater efficiency, especially in the aspect of exchange rate that is affecting virtually everything in the economy now.”
CBN, Bankers’ Committee and bank charges:
It could be recalled that the cashless policy was first introduced by CBN on January 1, 2012 in Lagos State, where the higher proportion of cash circulates daily as a pilot study to test-run the process. Thus, the CBN and the Bankers Committee, in November 2012, agreed to abolish all charges associated with the use of ATMs, in order to increase patronage of ATMs, thereby deepening financial inclusion strategy of the apex bank. So, in December, 2012, they abolished the payment of N100 ATM withdrawal charge by depositors. They transferred the payment of the N100 fee to the issuing banks, stressing that the fee be split between the acquiring bank, issuing bank and switch companies. But, on August 13, 2014, the same Committee and the CBN re-introduced ATM charge of N65 instead of N100, to be paid by individual customers.
The circular, signed by the Director of Banking and Payment Systems Department of CBN then, Mr. Dipo Fatokun, stated, “The CBN agreed to re-introduce ATM charge because the cost of transaction was becoming too burden some for the banks to bear. The circular from September 1, 2014 shall be effective date for the implementation of the new charge. Banks are expected to conduct adequate sensitisation to the customers on introduction of the new fee. As a result of the un-intended consequences of the decision, which has resulted in substantial cost burden incurred by banks in defraying the cost of the service, the payment structure for card carrying bank customers is hereby reviewed in line with the present realities”.
When Sunday Vanguard visited some commercial banks in Lagos, customers were seen carrying out their normal transactions. It was also observed that, some banks had more customers in the banking halls and at the ATM points, while other places were very scanty. Some of the depositors who spoke during the visit blamed the CBN for re-introducing ATM charged that was abolished by the former governor of CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, while other said that banks are making a lot of money from customers, yet they keep on retrenching, even as many of their workers are on contract.
A customer at Oluwo, Ikeja branch of First Bank, who gave her name as Mrs. Gloria Moses, said, “The apex bank that regulates activities of commercial banks is acting as if it is panicking, especially in the area of foreign exchange. If you look at the forex policies of the CBN critically, you can easily realise that the current CBN is already panicking. To me, the re-introduction of ATM charge after it was removed by the same CBN was unnecessary. For that reason, I don’t use ATM of other banks for withdrawal since that charge was brought back. I simply withdraw from my own bank to avoid paying extra charge. It seems the CBN is even losing focus on what the banking public actually want, which is a reduction in interest rate for industries to thrive and create jobs for the masses. I think the re-introduction of ATM charge constitutes policy inconsistency”.
Perspective of advocacy group/Objective
Some of the practices mentioned by CAFON, which necessitated the action against banks excessive charges, unexplainable fees and unfair contracts designed to protect the financial institutions to the detriment of the banking public. Others are indiscriminate debiting of customers’ accounts for charges that are arbitrary and unilateral changes in interest rates by banks, and this without prior notice to the consumers.