Automated Trouble Machine

Automated trouble machine Automated Teller Machine, the banking technological magic that lets you withraw cash any time without minding banking hours and officials has become a great pain in the neck for many bank customers in Nigeria as The Nation Group Editor (Arts and Culture) SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE found out Akanji sat at the customer care desk of Access Bank, Iyana Ipaja, Lagos branch waiting for the official on duty to attend to him. Courteous yet slow by today’s banking standard in Nigeria, he chose to stretch his patience rather than react to the dark skinned lady in tandem with his fuming mood. It had been 23 days since his money was swallowed by the Automated Teller Machine at the bank. Nothing had been done to rectify the situation as far as he knew. It all began on August 29. Akanji skipped and navigated his way through the muddy ponds at the entrance of the bank to find his way to the ATM to collect cash. He needed fund urgently. His daughter had arrived Lagos the previous week on holiday. In fact, he had taken a salary advance in the office to meet immediate needs upon her arrival. Now he needed to purchase some things and retire the loan. The machine was on and he inserted his Sterling Bank debit cash. After entering the correct PIN he specified the amount he wanted to collect. The machine duly issued the receipt and asked him if he wanted to perform another transaction. “Don’t use that machine.” Akanji’s heart skipped as a hoarse voice barked at him. Turning around he saw body builder’s frame clad in Arksego security company’s uniform scowling at him. “Why?” he inquired. “Just don’t use it,” the fellow replied rudely. Turning back to the machine, Akanji noticed that despite issuing a receipt, the machine had not released his fund. He ended all operations and went into the bank to lodge a complaint at the customer care desk. The lady at the desk after some delay gave him a form to complete assuring him the amount would be refunded to his account. Not knowing his account number off head – who is supposed to memorise so many digits anyway? – he took away the form. On August 31 the form was returned to the bank duly completed. Now on September 21, he assumed the would have been refunded. On getting to the bank he discovered this had not been done. “Did you complete a form for refund?” the lady at the desk finally asked him. “That’s what I just told you. I did so 21 days ago,” he replied. “Was it an Access Bank card?” “No. It was a Sterling Bank card.” “Did you go to your bank to fill a form?” “Was I supposed to go there to fill another form after completing one here?” “Yes, of course.” Running out of patience, Akanji asked the lady, “Why didn’t anybody tell me this at the time?” Of course, the lady had no explanation. She only promised that the situation would be reviewed. In other words, they at Access Bank there would solve the problem without him needing to go to Sterling Bank. It was all baffling to him. What solution were they now going to find that they had not found in 21 days! The most confusing aspect was that the customer care officer at the branch of Sterling Bank were his account domiciled was aware of the problem. He had had to explain to her days ago while making enquiries about his account balance. If he needed to fill another form at Sterling Bank, why didn’t his banker tell him then? Akanji’s experience was not an exception. It is one of diverse frustrations Nigerians confront in using ATM on a daily basis. In fact, he was to face further huddles on that same August 29. Although his bank, Sterling Bank had a branch not too far from where he had tried to obtain cash, there was not ATM service there. In fact, Sterling Bank, which prefers to call its own debit card, has not seen any reason to install as many ATMs at possible in its branches thereby forcing customers who prefer this system to patronise other banks – and paying extra 100 naira service charge per in the process. So, Akanji went down the road to Intercontinental Bank located adjascent to Sterling Bank along ever busy Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. “ATM? It’s temporarily out of service.” The security man at the gate explained as he turned him back. Zenith Bank had a branch down the road. All he had to do was cross the road – again – and walk down. The distances between the banks did not deserve boarding a bus. Alas! The ATM at Zenith Bank had the same answer awaiting him: Temporarily out of service. Now sweating in humid air of the early morning sun following the previous day’s downpour having walk quite a considerable distance from his initial Iyana Ipaja bus stop take off point, Akanji took a heavy breath as he walked in the direction of Akowonjo where the security men at Zenith Bank assured him there were many ATM points. He nearly cursed the day he was named Akanji Ekun ti nko’gba ode l’ominu, the wary leopard that puts fear in a thousand hunters. Then he remembered that his explosive temper might have been the basis of his being given the name in the first place. After trekking for about 50 minutes, he was finally saved by FCMB at Akowonjo. A glance at his watch told him some one and half hours had gone by since he arrived at Access Bank. He needed another 40 minutes at least to get to where he would board a vehicle back home. Even then he had to stop by on the way to do some shopping Then he would have to get ready for day’s activities outside and at the office. What was a quick cash withdrawal had virtually consumed his entire morning. Charles lives off Awolowo Road at Ikoyi in Lagos. With several banks located along Awolowo Road, he had never had problem obtaining cash for use over the weekend since he got his GTBank ATM card. That was until one particular weekend a few months ago. Saturday morning, Charles went to Awolowo Road branch of GTBank to obtain cash. His wife needed to go shopping and his mother was to travel back to the village the following day. On getting there, he saw a notice that said the ATM would be out of service till 11 A. M. Not bothered, he headed for the nearest bank with ATM, the UBA next door. There he was informed his service provider was unavailable. The same message greeted him at other banks around. So he returned home and informed his family they would have to exercise patience as he would not be able to obtain money till 11 o’clock. Giving allowance for some delay, he went back to the machine at noon only to discover many others who had been waiting all morning were there trying to cash money. The problem was the machine, now rectified, dispensed money but not to GTBank card holders! People whose ATM cards were on other banks’ accounts could withdraw but not customers of GTBank. Mohammed’s experience was completely different. On two occasions, the machine had simply refused to cough out his card at the end of transaction. On another occasion, it told him his transaction was complete but there was no receipt. Receipt did not matter. What mattered was that the machine at Zenith Bank, Matori branch had not issued a single note of the 20,000 naira he sought to withdraw. It was a Friday evening. So all financial plans for the weekend had to be put on hold till he got to his bank on Monday to report the machine. Evangelicals opposed to gambling describe the gambling machine as the one-armed devil. The Automated Teller Machine is armless. So, what does one call it. Its problems are plenty and diverse. The variety Zenith Bank uses for example demands that you insert the card and withdraw it immediately before entering your PIN. The question is this system, called swapping, requires that the card stays in the hole for within a specific number of hours. In other words, if you are not ready to engage the services of the security men at the bank, you need to “go back to school” as it were to learn how to insert a card for specific number of seconds. A good number of times, the temporarily out of service notice and receipt without cash crisis are results of lack of fund in the machines. How an institution like a bank would not be able to estimate cash withdrawal is baffling. Even the illiterate Niger Republic-born security man who sells petty stuff beside one’s compound knows when to replenish his detergent and chewing gum stock. At the extreme end of this ATM troubles is a machine that had a penchant for miscalculation. Often out of paper to print receipt, it would miscalculate the customer’s balance at the end of the transaction. How did this come out? A worker at the bank, a First Bank branch, advised this writer sometimes ago, “Egbon, don’t use our ATM. It mixes up your balance calculations at the end of the transaction.” A case of the machine stealing for the bank. While Akanji was lodging his complaint at Access Bank, Iyana Ipaja, on August 29, he noticed that there were others with similar problem who preceded him. Others soon joined. One then wonders: Is it not possible to shut down a machine that is causing such problems or at least post a note or a human being there to warn customers? Must the customer go through such troubles in the name of withdrawing cash? Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria sent out signals that there would be a price to pay for banking based on sexual entrapment. Good. The question is that, as the industry regulator, does the CBN not have a duty of regulating operations of the Automated Teller Machine? Someone once wrote an article entitled How did we ever live without the ATM? Such is the prevalence of the use of this technology in the advanced world although it did not enter the shores of Nigeria until recently. An automated teller machine (ATM) is a computerized telecommunications device that provides the customers of a financial institution with access to financial transactions in a public space without the need for a human clerk or bank teller. On most modern ATMs, the customer is identified by inserting a plastic ATM card with a magnetic stripe or a plastic smartcard with a chip, that contains a unique card number and some security information, such as an expiration date or CVC (CVV). Security is provided by the customer entering a personal identification number (PIN). Using an ATM, customers can access their bank accounts in order to make cash withdrawals (or credit card cash advances) and check their account balances. ATMs are known by various casual terms including automated banking machine, cash machine, hole-in-the-wall, cashpoint or Bancomat (in Europe and Russia). In Nigeria for example, Yoruba speaker of Lagos call it owo ara ogiri, money on the wall. The ATM was invented by Scot John Shepherd-Barron. The world’s first ATM was installed in a branch of Barclays in Enfield, Middlesex, United Kingdom in 1967. A mechanical cash dispenser was developed and built by Luther George Simjian and installed 1939 in New York City by the City Bank of New York, but removed after 6 months due to the lack of customer acceptance. The ATM got smaller, faster and easier over the years. Thereafter, the history of ATMs paused for over 25 years, until De La Rue developed the first electronic ATM, which was installed first in Enfield Town in North London on 27 June, 1967 by Barclays Bank. In Nigeria, the ATM was introduced in 1989 by the defunct Societe Generale Bank. In October 2003 InterSwitch ATM system took off. Since then, ATMs appear to have spread their tentacles across Nigeria. Not only does it link branches of a particular bank it also links other banks within the system. Many had come to rely on it for cash needs especially during the weekend and while away from their bases. Apart from banks, there are business points such as supermarkets, filling stations and eateries where ATM service is available. At the beginning – and this remains the practice in many banks except in those trend-setting banks like BTBank – one needed to apply for it. Initially, only the Nigerian elite, mostly those who had lived abroad and had become familiar with “cashless society” concept, applied for it. The major fear of Nigerians at the beginning was that it could be used to defraud them. For example, a senior official in a media lost his new card and PIN number to someone who had access to his drawer in the office. He did not even know until his cheque bounced. Armed with the knowledge that what was in his account should have met the cash demand on the cheque he gave his driver to cash, he went to the bank himself to demand explanation. It was only then he learnt that “he” had used his ATM card to make three major withdrawals thereby depleting his account. However, there are few cases of such occurrences. A stolen card for example is of no use except the thief has the PIN. After seen the obvious advantages ATM, other Nigerians soon jumped on board. As its use spread, banks started issuing it automatically with new accounts opened. With a bank like Sterling Bank, you still have to apply for it. Even then, you are not sure of how long you would wait for its arrival. When it finally comes, you have to wait for your PIN to be sent unlike say GTBank where you receive both simultaneously. You might need to make several calls to the telephone numbers on the card before somebody finally gets it for you. The problems of ATM seems not to be limited to Nigeria. For example, there is the story of a Nigerian whose credit card was literally chewed up in the United States of America. Our is however made more complex, maybe because while the whole world is online we are still on foot. Just like interconnectivity is a problem in our telecommunication industry, online transaction remains problematic in the banking industry – even between branches of the same bank. In recent times, Nigerian banks had been opening new branches anywhere space is available, especially at the nation’s business centres. Recapitalisation has been praised for this trend. The question analysts are asking is why the same factor has not considerably improved IT development in the banking sector. No doubt it more fund is injected into this area there would be an improvement. Another factor that critics had pointed out aside CBN negligence and IT backwardness is the human factor. No matter what technology is available, they argue, the human factor has to be brought in. Technology does not operate itself. A lackadaisical official, for example, who “forgets” to enter a complaint cannot blame a machine for not processing it. Another aspect is the level of competence of some of the people running the system both administratively and technologically. Of course, epileptic power supply also comes in. Technology relies on power to operate. Till these lapses are addressed, Automated Teller Machine remains Nigerian users Automated Trouble Machine.


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