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As the Naira crisis weighs on banks’ digital platforms, fintechs are booming.

The redesign of the naira notes caused a crisis which has made daily operations difficult for many individuals and organisations. Due to a cash shortage in February, Nigeria’s economy almost collapsed, resulting in protests nationwide. As a result, the government reintroduced the old N200 notes into circulation, extending the deadline for their abolition by 60 days to April 10.

The scarcity of cash that has characterised the naira redesign has caused conventional banks to struggle with the attendant pressure that has come from Nigerians migrating to mobile and digital banking, causing their platforms to be stretched thin.

Banks were forced to close their doors to customers due to angry customers who were protesting their inability to withdraw money. With automated teller machines disabled and over-the-counter operations non-existent, banks’ digital platforms were overwhelmed. Many bank customers were stranded as they were unable to conclude their transactions.

Digital banking services became increasingly erratic, that transfers that were usually done in minutes were taking days to deliver. For instance, Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Convexity, Adedeji Owonibi, told The PUNCH about a payment he made through a digital banking platform which did not deliver after about a week.

A Guaranty Trust Bank customer, who gave her name only as Bolanle, lamented about the poor network and how it has affected her.

 “My bank app has not opened since last Friday. Thank God that I have customers who trust me enough to give me items on credit. If not I do not know what I would have done.”

In response to the increased failed transactions in their platforms, many banks have drafted more personnel to customer services to attend to customers’ complaints.

Banks were already having issues before the naira crisis. Many of them have been losing their best members of staff to ‘japa’ syndrome (local slang for migration). The naira crisis has brought to the forefront the lack of qualified IT manpower in the banking sector. Many of them have migrated to developed economies.

The bank is ready to bring in an expatriate at any cost because the situation is embarrassing, and the board is becoming impatient, a source close to a human resource consultant said. But not many people are so excited about Nigeria at the moment for obvious reasons. The most reasonable is to see how they can poach bright guys to stabilise the system and consider younger talents that could be trained overtime.”

According to the Vice President of the Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists, Seun Kuti-George, “Although the migration to online payment is possible, limitations from service glitches are matters of huge concern. What is worsening the situation is the technical issues accompanying the new means of payment, which is transfer.

For example, I made a payment to someone in the morning and up till now, the fellow has not received the alert. So, I had to leave the goods there until tomorrow morning hoping that the fellow would get alert by then. If it is an emergency or a matter of life and death or a matter of contract that will be cancelled, I would have lost that. But all these also will go away over time.”

 Also, a source at the United Bank for Africa, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak on the issue, blamed the network glitches on enormous online payment traffic. He said, “Online traffic is causing service glitches.”

Similarly, an official at Access Bank, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The PUNCH that although the glitches in the network occur, adding that “However, if it persists for more than one day, then you might need to visit the bank for help.” I mean when a banking app is not opening sometimes, it could be a problem from your network service provider. But when such situations persist, then it might be a major problem that only a visit to the bank can solve.”

The President of the Bank Customers Association of Nigeria, Dr Uju Ogunbunka, told The PUNCH: “You know the banks do not provide network services. Based on what we found out, there was a failure in the network system. And there was so much pressure. Everyone came to the bank to do one thing or the other, whether it was necessary or not. Because people were trying to meet the redesigned naira notes deadline, the pressure became too much. Unfortunately, some of these systems are still being built. They are not as strong. And you do not expect a miracle to happen. These are man-made issues.

We heard the collapse of the network was not essentially the problem of the banks. It was just that it manifested in the banking sector. Even those of us who are not working in the bank also witnessed the network problem with our phones. I will not agree that it was the problem of the banks. It just manifested within that framework. It manifested in various other places because the eyes of the public were on the banking system, which is why we noticed it very prominently.

He explained that the issue of remitted transfers could be attributed to a bad network. “Most of the cases of missing funds have to do with the malfunctioning of the network. If I am transferring money, even those days, when we were using the post office and telegram and there was an interruption in that system, that money will not get there the same day and time you expected it. Sometimes, the money goes missing not because someone has taken it but because it was stuck somewhere. And if it was tracked, you can still find it.

Sometimes, it becomes an issue of some people trying to manipulate the system and, thereby, committing fraud. We have many fraud experts in this country, and unfortunately, no matter how you try to build the system, they still find a way to work against the system,” Ogunbunka declared.

According to him, “That is why when you look at the reports of the CBN, NDIC and even the banks, you will see quite a number of fraudulent activities in the financial service industry.

Some people have dedicated their lives to continue to find loopholes they can take advantage of, which is very unfortunate. Many people, who do not have jobs, have decided to go into all these unhealthy practices that are subjecting others to trouble and headaches, which is pathetic. I believe this is part of the missing fund element. However, the majority of these missing funds were caused by failed transactions, which are recoverable. And quite a number of them have been recovered to the best of my knowledge.”

Also, the National President of the Association of Mobile Money Agents in Nigeria, Victor Olojo, said “The fact is that the sector is experiencing a lot of issues and pressure that is very well-connected to the CBN policy, so a number of the banks are overstretched in terms of their IT thus affecting the banks’ capabilities to handle the traffic and pressure on all of their platforms.”

While banks are having a hard time coping with the pressure that has come with the naira redesign, it has been a boom period for financial technology companies also known as fintech. Many bank customers have switched to fintech for their day-to-day transactions.

Fintech such as Kuda, PalmPay, Moniepoint, Parallex, etc., have become household names in the country as customers now depend on them for online payment as the naira crisis drags on.

Also, we can state that this period has been quite challenging from the CBN policy to the state of the nation to the attacks on banks but just to add that the fintech, the likes of Opay, Kuda, PalmPay and others, have come to save the day, and many Nigerians have fallen back on this fintech who before now was known as the underdogs.”

He advised banks to do more in strengthening their infrastructural base in terms of capacity building.

The reason some of these applications were not working is probably that their capacities were overly stretched, so they need to do more in some of these areas. For the Federal Government, I think they need to make sure that they give ample playing ground for fintech to strive more because you would realise that now the banks cannot handle all of their demands.”

The association of mobile money agents president stated that fintech also has a lot of roles to play in tackling the current challenges.

Also, Owonibi remarked that though the naira crisis has been in favour of fintech, they need to switch to blockchain to avoid system breakdown due to the increasing traffic on their networks.

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