The other day, a rumpus ensued in a banking hall where a customer accused the bank in question of deliberate attempt to defraud him. What was behind this allegation? He used the bank's Automated Teller Machine(ATM) to recharge his phone with N2,400 worth of airtime, but there was nary an airtime on his phone yet the amount was deducted from his balance.

The aggrieved customer said he had complained repeatedly to the bank for which they always gave him a complaint form to fill that he dutifully filled yet the sham wasn't rectified. This, he maintained, has lasted for five weeks hence his resolve to come hard on the bank. Don't lose focus, what you are expected to glean from that is the failure of ATMs!

Cases like the above must have necessitated the investigation launched by the House of Representatives and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) into allegations of indiscriminate seizure of customers’ money by the malfunctioning Automated Teller Machines of banks.

But it doesn't stop at the seizure of customers' money. What have become of ATMs and what has been made of that machine are multifarious.

There was this instance in Lagos where a customer who withdrew money from an old generation bank went to another bank few metres away to deposit part of the money only to be told by the cashier that some of the N1000 notes were fake. Efforts to explain the source of the money were rebuffed as the cashier and other customers in that bank confirmed that the development was not strange but was now becoming rampant.

Similarly, another victim who withdrew some amount of money from an ATM in Ibadan was stunned when he was told by a cashier in his office, as he was making some deposit, that two of the one thousand naira notes were fake.

Electronic transactions through ATMs have been bedeviled by other inefficiencies that are impinging on its wide adoption and reliability. There are times when the machine will swallow customers' card outright while at other times it will keep customers longer than should be before their money and cards are ejected.

Many are already developing phobia for the machines to the extent that but for the policy that specifies the least amount that should be paid across the counter, they wouldn't mind opting for the old school! At least, through that means the fear of being giving ersatz note wouldn't surface.

Suppositions are rife that the seizure of customers' funds in the guise of malfunctioning ATMs are calculated attempts by banks aimed at using unsuspecting customers' money to ease the financial pressure on them.

This is as an elephantine sum would have been realised by the banks when they aggregate the funds realised from the purported incidences. We will indeed be talking about millions of naira being deliberately denied customers while the banks are feeding fat on same.

Is it a wonder that it was confirmed by the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) that as at the first quarter of this year, banks in Nigeria have defrauded unsuspecting customers to the tune of N8.6bn aside the fraud perpetrated through ATMs. Now we know how they come through with those high profit they flaunt before us year in, year out.

Industry players are always quick to attribute this anomaly to their ATMs not being in good condition. But how can they be in good condition when most of them have become antiquated? And how come with all the money the banks are ripping of customers they can't provide modern machines that are flawless?

All these reeks of an intended gambit.
Internet failure has also been addused as why the current situation persists. But with the innovations that go with the internet phenomenon, no serious-minded organisation would in this age allow internet failure to hamper its operations or give it a negative toga. If we don't hear of this in other climes, why should our banks tell us this tale?

The banks that seem so handicapped as regards ATMs withholding customers' funds will never tolerate a customer's default on the repayment of loan even for a day without sanction from the bank. In such instance, we don't even hear of internet failure affecting what they know of the loan.

The probe already instituted by the lawmakers and CPC is a welcome development as the banks would continue to indulge in this if no searchlight is beamed on them. The racket must have persisted because there has been no sanction to make banks responsible by ensuring that their ATMs are always in good condition and that they don't hide under the lapses of electronic transactions to undo customers.

The investigations should therefore be thorough not excluding the cases of the machines dispensing fake currency note. This cannot be attributed to the failure of ATMs as it is a clear case of human element. As such the scrutiny should be targeted at unearthing these unwholesome acts.

It shouldn't end with the investigations, neither should the probe be conceived as another scarecrow. The banks that would be revealed as culpable should be appropriately sanctioned. At least let a fall guy be made out of one of them then the rest will fall in line.

The banking industry should take measures to rid itself of this smirch that is denting on its image. There is the need for them to take extra vigilance on those uploading money into the ATMs and double-check bundle of currency notes being put in the vaults. If they can't get a handle on the supposed machine factor, let them not less than control the human element.

With the much puffed cashless policy of the CBN, we are in for a chimera if we allow this to continue. For there is no way the economy can go cashless when people don't have confidence on the conduit through which this can be achieved and the apparatus for the policy are skewed to defraud users.

But if we are carefree enough to allow these go unchecked, then should we know that we would only have succeeded in making people have less of their cash in the stead of empowering them to make the most of a cashless economy.

Written By Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi

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