In the competitive financial services sector where the banking industry dominates, service to customers should be given top priority. Doing so will encourage greater participation of people in the sector as well as deepen financial inclusion. However, excessive bank charges may likely keep some people away from the banking sector. Currently, some customers are in courts with their banks over incessant bank charges. If banks do not curb excessive charges, the menace may erode customers’ confidence in the banks. Many bank customers have decried excessive deductions from their accounts in recent times. The development might have prompted the Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON) to denounce the practice.
The Customer Protection Department of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been inundated with many complaints on excessive charges from customers. Despite these complaints, the illegal practice still persists. No fewer than nine multiple charges and sundry taxes are imposed on customers as commissions on transactions. These are Stamp Duty, Value Added Tax (VAT), Card Maintenance Fee, Current Account maintenance fee, Annual Card maintenance fee. Other charges are Electronic Transfer charges, Automated Teller Machine (ATM) charges, charge for hardware token and fee for short messages (SMS).
Undoubtedly, this practice might make many banks’ customers to close their accounts. It is sad that this is happening at a time there is renewed effort to broaden financial literacy in the sector.
We decry this practice and urge the banks to desist from it. A recent computation of earnings from accounts of 10 out of the 14 Deposit Money Banks listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) showed that maintenance charges alone amounted to N22 billion. The CBN should intervene and stop the menace, which is unacceptable. Despite the widely celebrated reduction in charges applicable to bank accounts, electronic transfers, and ATM transactions through the banks and other financial and non-bank financial institutions stipulated in the CBN Revised Guide of December 20, 2019, the menace continues unabated. The guide specified a flat fee of N50 for electronic transfers above N5,000, and a maximum of N10 for transfers below N5 ,000.
According to the revised guideline, Savings account should attract a fee of N50 per quarter from the previous N50 per month. Also, the annual mainte- nance fee on foreign currency denominated cards was reduced from $20 to $10. ATM charges were reduced to N35 after third withdrawal within a month from N65. It has been reported that some of the banks are not complying with the revised guideline.
We urge the CBN to enforce the extant laws on arbitrary charges by commercial banks. Banks should not abandon their traditional roles as financial intermediaries that supply services to borrowers and lenders. A resort to cheap money through excessive charges is unethical. Banks and other financial institutions should bear in mind that any breach of the provisions of CBN in relation to deductions on transactions carries a penalty. We believe the penalty for such breach, which is N2million per infraction, is like a slap on the wrist. Stiffer sanctions should be put in place to deter banks for exploiting customers.
According to statistics by the Customers Protection Department of CBN, about N60billion excessive charges were recovered on behalf of customers from the defaulting Banks. CBN Deputy Director, Customer Protection Department, Mrs. Chinyere Obilo, disclosed this during a recent sensitisation forum organised by the apex bank in Owerri, Imo State.
Complaints by customers may rise in the months ahead if stiffer penalties are not enforced, especially now that bank account holders across the country have increased by 35 million between January and May 30, 2020, ac- cording to a recent data by the Nigeria Interbank Settlement System (NIBBS). The data showed that a total number of bank accounts grew from 125 million in January to 160 million at the end of May. This represents 78.1 per cent. Savings accounts grew by 33.8 million within a five-month period. Financial inclusion may suffer a setback if excessive bank charges are not checked forthwith.