The Case for Virtual Banks

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Dele Thomas, a financial expert, draws attention to teeming crowd at banks in disregard of social distancing guidelines and concludes that Nigerians know little about virtual banking and still place their trust in physical banking structures not on the quality of service offered.

On Monday April 27, 2020, during a live nationwide address, President Muhammadu Buhari laid out the easing of lockdown restrictions to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus in Lagos and Ogun States and the FCT. The highlights of the new measures include revised operating hours for banks and financial institutions – as an essential service – each branch is responsible for the provision of temperature checks, gloves and masks for customers and employees alike, as well as, the enforcement of strict social distancing in banking halls.

The President’s address was met with fierce social media reaction, resulting in a collection of animated GIFs and memes mocking the laid-out plans.

On Monday, the lockdown ‘shackles’ were off. Nigerians in the hardest-hit cities, particularly Lagos, donned face masks and ventured on their respective livelihoods. By 10am, amateur videos and photos surfaced online capturing Lagosians waiting in exceptionally crowded, long queues outside branches of the country’s biggest banks struggling with one another on who first would enter into the banking halls. More so, there was a noticeable increase in vehicle traffic and people out and about on foot. As the impact of Coronavirus is felt across the country, there is fear that these images can only mean one thing for the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control – a surge in cases.

As I reflect on the past 72 hours, I wondered why despite the efforts of local fintechs and digital banks, virtual banking continues to record low adoption rates. Institutions such as ALAT and KUDA lead that charge but there is still a long way to go. Some obvious reasons could be ascribed to slow internet adoption and smartphone penetration but the more dominant factor is a culture of distrust when it comes to money.

Despite its numerous benefits from cost savings, greater control over service delivery, reduced wait times, to higher perceived levels of customization; Nigerians – learned and unlearned – know little about virtual banking and still place their trust in physical banking structures not on the quality of service offered.

New entrants into the virtual banking space, VBank have sort to address these trust issues in a rather entertaining way, choosing to employ the services of a respected public figure in Mavins Record Label Chief Exec, Don Jazzy as their brand’s face. These are encouraging signs that virtual banking can be a thing in Nigeria.

The videos from this week serve as a reminder to us all, especially those keeping safe at home, that we are all at risk. There is little difference between the man at home practicing isolation to the man waiting in a banking hall queue as we speak. The virus can be transmitted through physical surfaces, one of which includes money, which moves from one hand to the other as Nigerians go about completing different transactions.

Cash used to be king, but we cannot afford to continue like this. The digital revolution needs adoption. It’s time to bank virtually.