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By Eric Eghaghe
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One significant highpoint of the account validation exercise kicked off by Heritage Banking Company on Tuesday 29 January for Customers of the defunct Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria (SGBN) is the immediate issuance of payment cheques to customers whose accounts are successfully validated.

Investigations conducted across some designated centres showed that the exercise is in two parts namely verification of accounts and instant issuance of payment cheques for those who prefer to collect the balances in their accounts. Owners of successfully validated accounts also have the option of retaining such with the new Heritage Bank which is set to begin operations before the first quarter of the year ends.

At the AIB plaza centre in Lagos, an official who asked not to be named stated that the management of the new Heritage Bank has put everything in place to ensure that all SGBN customers who turn up for the month-long exercise go back satisfied.

In her words, “Management has made adequate arrangement for everybody and we have the financial strength to pay everybody if the need arises”.

On the modality for account validation, the official said Savings account holders are expected to come with means of identification such as driver's licence, passport or national identity card, as well as their cash withdrawal forms and deposit slips. For Current and Corporate accounts, account holders are expected to present their chequebooks or cheque stumps.

“The process is simple, hassle-free and technology-driven to ensure that customers that turn up do not have to wait endlessly. We just call up the customer's number from our server base at the head office. Once this appears, the customer's picture is taken and stored and the form is passed on to the Validation officer through the control officer, for the account to be verified, including the balance in such account. Once this is done, the customer is referred to the cashiers who instantly write cheques for those that want their account balance paid”, the official explained.

Though turnout of customers was yet to pick up at the various centres visited on Thursday, analysts attribute this to customer apathy due to the failure of such exercises conducted on behalf of SGBN by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the past. A Lagos-based financial analyst, Jaye Opaleye, noted that most customers would still be having doubt about how the current exercise would be different from the past ones.

“In 2005, SGBN customers were asked to come for the validation of their accounts, but nothing tangible came out of the exercise. So, it is expected that the turnout now would be tentative. But with the way Heritage Bank is conducting the exercise, especially the aspect of issuing payment cheques to customers at the validation centers, one could see that they are very serious and prompt. It is a really different attitude and style which is a mark of integrity and a boost for the new bank and the banking sector generally”, Opaleye noted.

Customers interviewed in some of the centres expressed happiness at finally having the opportunity to reclaim their trapped monies after many years.

According to a happy, middle-aged customer at the Akoka centre who waved his cheque excitedly, the current exercise by Heritage Bank has ended his long wait. “I am really happy that after so many years, we, depositors of SGBN can now smile again. This is a good development indeed and a credit to the new bank- Heritage Bank- because this exercise has just been fantastic. It took just a few minutes for them to resolve my issue and settle me. Twice before now, we have been invited to come for the validation of our accounts but it was all a waste of time. But now, that wait is finally over”.

On Thursday (3rd day of the exercise), officials of the banks at the Abuja and Port Harcourt Centres were seen handing over cheques to owners of some successfully validated accounts. However, it was learnt that a large number of the customers that turned out for the exercise opted to retain their accounts with the upcoming bank.

One of such customers revealed that the show of integrity by Heritage Bank has convinced him to opt for retaining his old SGBN account with the new bank. “The fact that the bank demonstrated high level of integrity and trust throughout the entire process has earned them some goodwill. Though they wanted to write a cheque for me to cover the balance in my account, I asked them to register me as a customer of their new bank and use my balance to open a new account for me”, he stated.

It would be recalled that Heritage Banking Company, which was licensed recently by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to operate under a regional banking status, had announced the commencement of a one-month account validation exercise for customers of the old SGBN. The exercise which began on Tuesday January 29 is to set the tone for its commencement of operations. A statement from the bank had earlier stated that the exercise was in line with the terms of the operational licence granted it by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).