Saturday, October 3, 2015

ATM, Banks and Helpless Customers


Automated Teller Machines otherwise known as ATM were designed to reduce stress on customers of banks seeking to withdraw money. ATMs provide services to card holders wherever they may find themselves. Some of us who know the cheque era can remember the frustrations customers experience collecting money especially at the end of the month when salaries are paid. Customers have to be given a tally because the queue is so long and chaotic. In the Nigeria’s characteristic manner of impatience, people shun the queue, reserve and even physically fight.

Some readers may remember one popular advert, I can’t remember for which bank where customers come to banks with their sleeping mat and that popular phrase ‘’give me my tally number’’ is still fresh in my mind. To make things worse, you can only cash money from the bank whose cheques you have. For instance, you can’t use First banks cheque to collect cash at UBA. If you are given a Unity Bank cheque you can only cash it at a Unity bank. Transfers take longer time, one have to use bank drafts etc.

Today, many young people do not even know that people use cheques to cash money. Some months a go my ATM has experienced and I needed money, so I gave my son, a level three undergraduate student a cheque to cash and he was puzzled. What is this? I explained to him what a cheque is and he was surprised that one can use that paper and collect money. All he knows is the ATM card. It was an experience for him to cash money using a cheque.

During the pre-ATM era, people go to the bank once, twice or thrice in a month and manage their spending in such a way as to avoid going to the bank again until the coming month. That in some way helps customers to spend less and with some degree of discipline. It helps customers to ensure that they have cash at hand for every future transaction they may do because when the time comes the banks might be closed or the long queues may delay or stop the transactions. In that period, it is money on demand-like. The coming of the ATM changed all that.

When ATMs were introduced, many people hesitate to use them because they are scared of the technology and reliability of the cards. So it was started as a kind of a voluntary service. If you want, you apply and get one. As usual young people who see it as vogue started adapting the ATM before old people who are more used to the cheque system. But the Federal Government at the time was pushing for what it calls a cashless economy, even when many people including me feel it is too early to go fully cashless. Today, most bank customers have ATM cards, sometimes at request sometimes automatic. Even housewives have their ATMS and usually send someone to cash on their behalf, giving the cashier their pass word and all with no insurance.

With an ATM gave us more freedom to cash money at will. It gives us the opportunity to do transactions using our computers or even mobile handsets. It gives us the freedom to withdraw money from any available ATM anywhere in the world. ATM cards created many opportunity we never thought possible. But they also come with their unique problems. Every new technology brings its challenges to people’s way of life. Just like mobile phones changed our lifestyles leaving us wondering how life will be without them (forgetting that we lived without them safely and well), so have ATM cards.

Here we are holding beautiful well designed cards that we can always use anywhere anytime to withdraw cash and do transactions with the available monies in our account. So, with our ATM cards today, we have changed the way we spend money. We no longer have to cash money in advance and keep because we can always cash money from the ATM. We spend more money now and spend more at shops that operate Point of Sale (POS) where one can use his card to pay for transactions. One doesn’t feel as much pinch when he uses ATM card as when he uses cash, so one can spend more using card.

The major challenges customers faces using the ATM cards include annoying phrases like dispense error, temporarily unable to dispense cash, the issuer is none cooperative, out of service and the ATM queues which are different from the banking hall queues.  Let’s start with the quality of service provided. All the signboards of ATMs usually have 24/7 on them, meaning, available for 24 hours daily, 7 times a week. This shows that one can withdraw money any time we chose. But, is that so? Can we really get the money anytime anywhere? There are ATMs located in bank premises and some outside bank’s premises. It is understandable that you go to a non-bank premises ATM and fail to get money, but it is inconceivable that you fail to get money in a bank-premises ATM.

This is one aspect that bankers show most irresponsibility to customers. Bankers should know the frequency and quantum of withdrawals at different periods of the month and ensure that monies are made available at peak points-usually month end. What are their research units doing not to understand customers demand pattern? One can visit 10-20 ATMs and being annoyingly told temporarily unable to dispense cash. This attitude must stop, the Central Bank of Nigeria that is preaching and imposing this new innovation must come to the aid of customers. In some banks, the night watchmen at their own will or on instruction lock the gates of the ATMs at 10:00 pm while the signboard is still telling you that the ATM provides services 24/7.

There is also the problem of dispense error, I changed my bank because the could not get my monies back, I was debited a hundred thousand without dispensing and my bank could only get me 60,000 naira and for over four years today my 40,000 is still missing in action. In the new bank I transferred, it took me 43 days to reverse a dispense error of 20,000 naira. In fact, many people lose monies unnecessarily due to dispense error. I have no doubt that, if CBN is to commission a study on dispense error, it will find that Nigerians are loosing billions. Where are the monies going? No one is being punished.

Finally, I want to stop here with a call on the supervising agencies to come to the aid of customers. Customers pay for the services giving by banks and banks should be made more responsible to meeting customer’s needs. Severe punishments must be meted on erring banks that make customers suffer from their incompetence and neglect.
This article was pubished in DAILY TRUST, Sunday, September 20, 2015

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Kano, Kano, Nigeria
Dr. Yusuf M. Adamu is a Professor of Medical Geography at the Bayero University Kano. He is a bilingual novelist, a poet, and writes for children. He is interested in photography and run a photo blog ( All the blogs he run are largely for his hobbies and not his academic interests. Hope you enjoy the blogs.