By Babajide Komolafe
Banks may have decided to suspend international transactions on Naira and Dollar denominated ATM cards in protest of harassment of staff by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Indications to this emerged last week, when a bank announced a temporary shutdown of Mastercard International transactions.
“Please be informed that all international transactions on your MasterCard Naira and Dollar (Debit, Prepaid) will be temporarily declined, effective May 26, 2016 due to the current volatility in the foreign exchange market.
However, your Naira denominated cards can still be used for local transactions on PoS Terminal, ATM and online for Nigerian retailers”, the bank informed its customers.
A bank executive who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity said that the development was in connection to the harassment of bank staff over the exchange rate charged for international transactions on naira debit cards.
He said that the bank’s decision to shut down Mastercard international transactions was to prevent arrest or further arrests of its staff by EFCC. “That is what you get when you have the EFCC arresting banks’ staff and the CBN not doing anything to defend the banks,” he said, adding that, “You will see more of such actions from other banks as time goes on.”
In a letter written to the CBN last month, banks complained that, EFCC has been going to banks and arresting staff of banks stating that card rate for cross border transactions should not be more than the CBN rate plus a margin of N0.50.
Titled, “Harassment of banks by the Economics and Financial Crimes Commission over charges on FX Card Rates,” the letter stated, “As you will recall sir, the Central Bank of Nigeria does not sell foreign exchange (FX) to banks for settlement of international cards schemes for the cross border spend on our Naira debit card, most banks have had to be sourcing FX from autonomous markets.
At several meetings of the CBN with Deposit Money Banks, it was reiterated that we need to protect the scarce FX of the country and limits were placed on cross border spend of naira debit ($300/ day for ATM withdrawal and a total of N50,000 p.a for ATM and PoS purchase per card). One the measures adopted by banks to discourage the abuse of usage was the card rate as most banks PTA/BTA at the CBN rate.
Any customer of a bank travelling with appropriate document can access the PTA window at $4,000 per quarter. Deposit Money Banks set the card rates based on a daily market competitor scan, thereby leaving market forces to dictate what the banks can charge their customers.
“As the sole regulator of banking practice in Nigeria, we hereby request the CBN to urgently take steps to clarify to the EFCC that the banks have been allowed to offer the product solely on a market determined basis. This has become unavoidable in order to forestall further harassment by the EFCC”.