In Defiance of COVID-19 Protocols, Customers Crowd Banks



Becky Uba-Umeyili

By the nature of their operations, the banks have undoubtedly been affected by the fallout of the COVID-19 siege, although they struggle to remain afloat in business amidst dwindling economy.

Following the stipulations by the government on certain protocols to be observed for due prevention of the spread of the virus, most banks resumed services, but with a different story. Wash-hand basins are installed in their premises with provision of hand sanitisers for every guest (required to wear face masks before entry into their premises) and necessarily asked to maintain safe distance from one another.

However, it has been observed that although these protocols are marshalled out to each guest visiting the banks, (some of which have provided canopies for their guests in the banking premises to prevent crowd mingling so as to guarantee social distancing), a lot of shortcomings exits to the inconvenience of these customers.

Delay in services caused by so many factors, makes customers lose their patience and throng the entrance points of these banks for various complaints; thus defeating the essence of preventing crowd movement and invariably, the spread of the virus.

Noticeably, banks have enfranchised private bodies to serve monetary needs of some of their customers. Very recently, the Point of Sale (POS) vendors have sprung up in the country in almost every nook and cranny of each community. Previously, the POS terminals served as simple payment points in supermarkets, departmental stores, shopping malls, corporate offices and other related business establishments where the ATM cards are used for payment by their clients/customers. However, the POS machines have gradually been improved to render more fiscal services and thence, individuals licensed by the banks now use it to serve monetary needs of people who deposit, withdraw and transfer money at will.

The invention of the POS vending system has obviously reduced the crowd that go to bank for transactions, albeit the dangers of fake currencies at such points, even as most vendor alongside their customers complain of network problems, which often times, delay smooth transactions. As well, problem of delay in non-reversal of unpaid debited sums causes friction between vendors and their customers.

Similar to the POS alternative, is mobile banking, where software applications are installed on customers’ mobile phone for self-processing of payment and other financial matters to prevent going to the banks. While this system helps to promote a cashless society, it also has some drawbacks in the area of poor internet facility to support the network provision needed for fiscal transactions.

In the same vein, the fear of cybercrime (a network of criminal activities involving computers and/or internet networking for fraud, theft, blackmail, forgery, embezzlement and other related crime) discourage some people from using the mobile banking application.

These aforementioned problems may not be eliminated but can be mitigated. A collaborative effort by the government, organisations and individuals can lead to control of these militating factors.

Internet service providers should improve their delivery to end-users; banks should install latest software and other technologies that can facilitate quicker service to the public in their various units and departments, ensure proper security control and train their staff for constant supervision of public facilities, careful observations and communication of technical information to all customers particularly in times of urgent needs.

Government should create more jobs to keep youth busy and out of mischief and implement strict laws against offenders, supervise the activities of the banks for customer-friendly relationship as well as ensure customers’ safety and strict compliance of the banks set down rules. Individuals on their parts should proactively, observe laid down rules for their personal wellbeing and financial security.

Bank Customers Complain

It has become a common sight to notice crowds at the entrances of most banks in the country, especially in Lagos, following easing of the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. This development has persisted with each bank’s situation peculiar to their management policy, while some have provided canopies for their customers, others simply organise their customers to form queues that are usually too long. Although there are other banking alternatives expected to ease these long queues, including ATM, phone mobile banking and most recently, POS agencies, customers have increased in numbers each day to gain access into the banking hall despite the inconvenience at the entry points.

THISDAY went round a number banks and spoke with some customers, who expressed their disgust and complained against the recent practice and the inconvenience it causes them.

Mrs. Adeola Oluwatosin opined that an alternative measure could be introduced to eliminate the long queues experienced in banks before having access into their premises. As such, one has to go to the banks too early in order to obtain number before gaining entry into their premises. Consequently, she said she has resorted to using the ATM to prevent the stress of the long queues and further appealed to the banks to fill the ATM with money as well as ensure that they are working properly.

The story is not different with Mrs. Busola Olajuiyagbe, who acknowledged that the POS has been a relief to ease the stress of the long queues outside the bank. She however did not believe that the spread of the COVID-19 virus could be prevented considering the presence of crowds at the entrance of the banks despite the fact that customers wear their face masks and further appealed to the bank officials not to concentrate only on the customers in the banking halls but should as well, consider the well-being of their customers’ at their gates.

“Really, in view of the essence of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think the banks have been doing well but they need to improve”, said Mr. Femi Timothy. He observed that the restrictions were proper to prevent easy access into the banks which invariably should encourage customers to use their online banking scheme and other alternatives for their monetary transactions.

At least, it will eliminate the discomfort of queuing up for too long because only those with basic needs for transactions requiring physical presence like procurement of new ATM cards, updating information and other very relevant needs would come to the banks. He, however, urged the banks to increase the ATM points and ensure that they are efficient.

Nevertheless, some persons still fail to accept that the fear of the spread of the corona virus should open door for grave inconveniences that people have been suffering since the easing of the lockdown last year. Mr. TJ who berated the recent bureaucratic process of entry into banking premises, particularly the long hours of waiting, lamented at how too much time is spent attending to customers inside the offices at the expense of the ones waiting outside. He further decried the fact that some ATM points were not functional, adding that even at the POS sometimes, money is withdrawn without being confirmed and this may not be reverted soon, causing another inconvenience too. “I still have my money trapped with the bank since a month ago that has not been paid to me and yet this queue experience is discouraging when one thinks of coming to the banks to rectify pending issues. How can one spend a whole day here just to withdraw money? Imagine coming here as early as 6am just to collect tally number and yet it may be that it has reached about a hundred persons by that time. It’s up to the bank to ensure that their customers are not stressed; they should fill the ATM machines with enough money and ensure that they are working properly. It’s not funny to see that out of about ten ATM in one place, only about two of them are dispensing?

One wonders how the elderly ones in the society whose health are more vulnerable to the pandemic feel about this development. Thus, for Mr. Adeleke Adebowale, a major point of concern is the provision of a waiting space for customers. He observed that there was no proper shelter for customers waiting outside the banks and in cases where they are provided, they are usually too small to accommodate the teeming crowd. Bigger tents are needed to enable the customers observe social distance in the sitting arrangements and possibly, fans can be provided as lieu to the air-conditioners inside the banking halls, considering the humid air outside in most cases.

In view of possible constraints in the knowledge of mobile banking, Pa Adeleke appealed to the banks to provide more ATM machines because they are more reliable and ensure that they are in good conditions to serve the public especially during weekends, as it has been noticed that most weekend some machines do not dispense cash. He also advised government to play a watchdog role to supervise how the banks are managing their customers ‘because if the banks know that they are being watched, it will make them perform better and prevent this stress on their customers’.

For Mrs. Momoh Olajumoke, it’s a litany of woes as she wonders why customers should undergo any form of suffering or stress to collect their hard earned money? “In fact, I prefer leaving my money at home than putting it in the bank if not for security reasons. The ATM machines are not very helpful either; now I have been trying to withdraw with it and the system is telling me ‘invalid card’, meaning what? The weekends are worse; the machines will write ‘unable to dispense cash’. Here we are, sitting down in the sun and we have been here since morning. This is not fair at all because the banks are doing business with our own money so why put us through this kind of stress to collect our money after they have used it to better their own lots? When will all this rubbish stop? Where is our government? Where are our leaders? While we understand that this is to prevent the spread of the virus, but then the stress it gives us is worse than the covid-19 scare? Every problem has a solution; something has to be done to alleviate this issue. Yes, the POS has helped a lot in reducing this problem but then, there are other things needing the banks attention that can make one come to the bank only to spend these long hours of waiting game with so many loopholes in the service to customers. Can you imagine, I tried using the ATM to transfer money only to discover that the amount withdrawn from my account wasn’t paid and wasn’t reverted to my account? I complained to the bank, and since then, for almost four months now, nothing has been done and my money is just trapped like that!

Still in the wake of so much complaints, some customers’ attention is drawn to the substitute of ATM and POS units but for Mr. Bayo Salam, the banking sector should be more lenient in discharging their duties. Although, one can use the mobile banking or POS but yet there are transactions that require physical handling and therefore needs the attention of bank staff.

It is equally viewed as a Nigerian polity factor, considering the fact that in other countries, people may not be going through similar stress in such civil matters. Comrade Aja Stanley, one-time staff of late legal luminary and human right activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, blamed the system on corruption as he wonders why both the Leaders and top hierarchy of the banking industry cannot address this issue? “What we are suffering in this country is tremendous; who could have imagined that banking situations would be like this? Our suffering really is attributable to our insincerity and lack of fear of God. The POS may not serve the desired purpose in due time because of crime; we lack honesty and people must not keep quiet”.

For Mrs Iyawande, simple solutions could be proffered to alleviate the bottleneck associated with recent banking system in the country. She suggested that the banks should adopt a customer-friendly approach by avoiding delays and be brief with the customers so that they can attend to as many people as possible within a stipulated time. Also, the banks should ensure that their internet service providers are efficient because if their service is effective, serving their customers will be fast and the congestion will be reduced.

On the issue of the POS service (which has become a neighbourhood stall at almost every corner of the town), a vendor, Mr. Ibrahim Olaniran said he enjoyed the POS business, but complained that sometimes the network was poor and doesn’t support monetary transactions. “Also the charge fee, (which varies bank to bank); is high considering what we remit to the bank for each transaction. We also have errors in payment because sometimes, withdrawals are made but payments are not affected, a factor that leads to aggressive encounter with some impatient customers”. Yet, there still remains the fear of fake currencies that some customers use to pay, a factor which discourages some people from patronising the POS agencies.