Omodele Adigun, Bimbo Oyesola, Uche Usim, Steve Agbota, Chinwendu Obienyi and Chiamaka Ajeamo
“Among the many lessons Nigerians have learnt during the COVID-19 lockdown and its associated social distancing principles, is one that emphasises less human contact and use of virtual tools for banking transactions. This means that customers are going to see a lot more online-based banking activities in the new normal.
“Banks will have to build capacities for online banking with fewer person- to- person interactions. Post-COVID-19, we are going to see less person-to-person human transactions with regards to banking operations , which means, banks would have to invest on digital platforms to deliver financial services with less contacts. So a lot of banking business will go online. That is what we are seeing now.”
Those were the views of a stakeholder in the banking domain as he x-rayed the changing face of banking in COVID-19 era and beyond.
Commenting on Nigeria’s emerging phase of banking relationships, Professor of Capital Markets, Uche Uwaleke, said that COVID-19 and its uncertainties have made many banks to become loan shy, especially when viewed against their asset quality.
“Consequently, it is becoming increasingly difficult for bank customers to obtain credit facilities besides the ones emanating from the CBNs interventions.
“A number of banks are now encouraging their customers to transact online as opposed to using the banking hall.
“In compliance with COVID-19 protocols, the banks now require customers to wait inside a place provided within the premises after they have been issued numbers instead of having them crowd in the banking hall.
“While that creats some sort of orderliness, it leads to a lot of delays in many branches partly because many banks have yet to commence full operations in all their branches”, he added.
Also x-raying the new trend in bank customer relations, Mr. Sotonye Anga, the Managing Director Universal Quest Nigeria, stated that the banking community was going to see transactions reduced because a lot more people will prefer to keep their money in the house rather than putting it in banks. These are the things we will be seeing in the new normal. Banks will see significant loss of revenue during this period and post-COVID-19. The bottomline: it will affect the turnover of banks and transactions because Nigerians are not fully abreast of online banking practices as many still prefer more of brick and mortar physical banking transactions in the country.” Anga was probably not alone, he has a soul mate in the President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Mr Bayo Olugbemi, who told Daily Sun that since “some of the staff of corporate bodies are still working from home, there would be surge in data and cost (in a bid) to service bank customers.”
His words: “All of us are very much aware that COVID-19 has done a lot of damage not only to the banking sector or the financial sector but to the global economy. We have seen a number of people going to the banks to collect money more from digital channels over the past months, but I am also not surprised that staff are laid off because of how much the pandemic has affected the banking sector. Thank God, the CBN came in to salvage the situation. So far, banks are obeying the rules of engagement released by the authorities as regards social distancing.Definitely, some of these corporates are still working from home and so there would be rise in data and cost to servicing customers of these banks.”
Regarding the fiscal performance of the banks this year, Ike Chioke, the Group Managing Director of Afrinvest West Africa, saw not-so-impressive outing.
According to him, some of these banks will have difficulties at the end of 2020, particularly , in their balance sheet.
Hear him: “I think that we need to come up with a homegrown solution because we often look outside Nigeria and say that, because they are doing that in some countries, then, we should copy their models. We do not have the transparency that the U.S has. Similarly in Europe, they have a proper record of SMEs whereas our SMEs here in Nigeria are vulnerable. Secondly, information is distorted and I think that, what is required is to come up with a homegrown solution based on connecting the society through groups, having leadership from the government and building digital platform to drive businesses.”
All the suggestions, advice and outlook might not be unconnected with the rising COVID 19 cases and deaths in the country. And despite safety measures put in place to protect “systems, employees, customers and stakeholders” in the banks, the sector still looks vulnerable and prone to the pandemic.
In fact, earlier in the year, when the pandemic broke out, several commercial banks had announced fatalities and subsequently shut the affected branches.
For instance, on June 18, a new generation bank had announced the death of one of its staff at Onne branch, Rivers State. Just before that, on March 26, an old generation bank also confirmed the loss of a staff at Kano Main Branch.
Similarly on March 12, another bank shut its Wuse 11 branch Abuja, visited by a deceased COVID 19 patient, while financial services operator whose staff returned from a holiday in the United Kingdom tested positive.
The bank promptly directed the affected staff to embark on self-isolation upon his arrival in the country in line with its policy that mandates staff/family members who have travelled overseas in recent time to self isolate for 14 days and test for the virus before returning to work”.
Commenting on these emerging challenges, Mazi Okechukwu Unegbu, a former bank Chief Executive and past CIBN president, urged Nigerian banks to take a second look at their precautionary measures.
His words: “I knew the guy who died in one of the banks. The point is, were there policies in place to protect the staff of the banks? I am sure there are policies within the banks. But were those policies adequate? If they were adequate, can someone said that the staff observed them? Or they observed them in the breach? Now if they were not adequate, what are the liabilities? First of all, to know whether they are adequate or not, you have to look at what the government has provided. The Presidential Task Force(PTF) on COVID 19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) provisions, now if the banks did not put those things in place, they are sure of liabilities. And if it is taken up in the court, they can not go free. But if they put them in place and they can prove that the staff had not adhered to them, their liabilities will reduce.It is not that that they wont suffer liability because, even when they know that the staff did not obey, and the staff came in and out without following the due process, did you, as their employers, warn them that they didn’t comply with due process? If you did , then you are fair. But if you did not, the bank will still be liable. There is a lot of this belief, particularly in the North, that this COVID 19 is big men’s disease; that it doesn’t kill the poor or the ordinary man in the street. But that is a fallacy. I was reliably told that the markets there are still filled up with people; there is no observance of physical distancing and many of them don’t have face masks; and they are just going about doing things. And there is even no water for them too to wash their hands, even no sanitiser was present.”
I went to a bank (recently). And wherever you have your PoS, you must have sanitiser to sanitise customers’ hands before service because many people are coming to the PoS. But I noticed that in some areas where the bank has PoS, unfortunately, there were no sanitiser. How much does it cost?
That is a serious negligence. And if anybody should take that up, the bank would be in trouble. Almost all the banks, are guilty of this negligence. They are negligent. They advertise but they don’t care for their customers as far as they are making the money. It is unfortunate. My advice is that the banks should go and take another look at their safety measures they put in place. If the safety measures fall below the standards set by WHO; standards set by the PTF on COVID 19 and standards set by the states, I think they should better take a second look. The problem that we have in our country is that people don’t challenge these banks. They do a lot of things and we allow them to go. And even the media do not seem to educate people (on their rights).You are supposed to enlighten us regarding what we are supposed to do. If the people are not aware (of their rights), there is nothing we can do. But if they are aware of basic information from the media, both electronic and print, then people will use it and challenge these banks for their negligence.
“No! it will even help financial inclusion. Are these banks, particularly those in urban areas, really into financial inclusion? They are not because, now, some of the banks, if you go there with N5,000 that you want to open an account, they won’t even listen to you. So what financial inclusion are we talking about?
For Toyin Agbaje, a marketer with one of the banks, the performance in terms of getting new customers has dropped significantly as some of them hardly go out and only come to work twice or maximum of thrice in a week. The banks also have different operational time. Some open 8 a.m to 4 p.m, while some do 9a.m to 3p.m.
“I think financial inclusion, as I keep saying, the best is to give capacity to microfinance banks that are part of the banking system because they are closer to the grassroots ; their operation is not like the conventional banks, except the ones owned by the conventional banks. But the others are like Esusu or ‘ajo’ that we do in the communities. They are close to the people. In fact , the microfinance banks are “ajo” society. They will see you as a person. These days, bankers are now on the internet super highway that you don’t need to even go there.
“So COVID 19 will not discourage customers at all, it will, in fact, help financial inclusion if the customers can challenge banks on their operations.”
Commenting on provision of sanitizers and other safety materials to customers, First Bank’s Group Head, Marketing & Corporate Communications, Mrs Folake Ani-Mumuney, said it was not the responsibility of banks to provide sanitiser at their PoS terminals, but that of the merchants.
Her words: “POS are given to merchants, like Shoprite. And, as you know, Shoprite would provide them hand sanitisers. I think the customer is being mischievous.
“All you need doing is check all the PPE(Personal Protective Equipment), such as temperature gauge, sanitiser, face masks, face shields overalls and social distancing markers that we have in our locations, in our branches’ ATMs etc.
“If a petrol station is using our PoS, we wouldn’t be the one to give them sanitisers nor would we be the one to give agents who carry four or five bank PoS machines sanitiser or the tailor or chemist who has three POS of which one happens to be ours.”
But while commiserating with the banks that lost their staff to the pandemic, the president of Bank Customers Association of Nigeria (BCAN, Dr Uju Ogubunka, called for the total implementation of the cashless Policy with emphasis on online delivery of services:
“May the souls of the faithful who departed rest in peace, Amen. (There is need to intensify the cashless policy, online banking and faster delivery of services that involve peoples’ physical contacts, including reduction in face -to-face marketing, will minimise exposure risk of bankers and customers alike. These are in addition to complying with existing rules.”
Also speaking on the challenges posed to banking sector by COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Kurfi Garba, the Managing Director of APT Securities, said:
“The truth of the matter is that these banks are capitalists and when you are in a capitalist system, what matters is money. A closer look at these institutions will tell you that they have not been fully operational as some of their branches are shut down. Secondly, there is internet banking which some are embracing, while some are not and so the more internet banking services go on, the less these branches opening its halls to Nigerians. That is where the banks can tap into to minimise these deaths from happening.”
However, Professor Segun Ajibola, also a former CIBN President , said banks are not to blame for the deaths of COVID-19 patients in their premises. According to him, “COVID-19 is no respecter of persons.”
He added: “It has been killing politicians and top persons in the country and the world. Banks can not be blamed for the deaths of COVID-19 patients in their premises because, just like other institutions, they can only take measures stipulated by the government.
“The war against COVID-19 is that of everybody just as the government and the NCDC have said. So when a customer of a bank dies of the disease in the bank premises, the bank’s management can only take measures recommended by the NCDC. Banks should continue to disinfect their branches, have temperature gauge, sanitisers, control the crowding in banking halls. The best practice banks can utilise to reduce the spread of the disese is to take proper care of the bank environment through these measures because people from various places come to the banks and you cannot tell what and who they have been exposed to before getting to the bank premises. If a customer who is asymptomatic enters a bank what can the management do? All the bank can do is to take remedial measures. When there is a positive case in a bank, the option is to close the bank, disinfect it, ask the staff to go into self isolation or testing till further notice.
“Banks cannot do more than take adequate precautions and remedial measures because it is an institution.”