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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Spurring use of debit cards

Recent report in the nation’s media was awash with the attack on a luxury bus coming to Lagos from Nnewi on a night journey.

The passengers mainly businessmen were said to be traveling to Lagos for transactions and were said to have been attacked along old Benin tollgate by armed robbers; who opened fire on the bus which led to the driver loosing control.

Reports also have it that over N4 million was collected from the passengers.

This brings to focus the essence of the several efforts made in the past to drive the country towards a cashless economy without much success.

Until recently a consortium of banks invested in Interswitch, a debit card switching company years back, that things began to change in the area of usage.

Debit card is an electronically embedded chip card used to make an electronic withdrawal from funds on deposit in a bank.

It is a known fact that Nigeria is cash driven society, a situation that has impacted negatively on her citizenry. Currently, estimated N200 million cash is consumed daily in the country, according to the Managing Director, ATM Consortium, Mr. Noble Ekajeh.

Cash transactions most often induce stealing and embezzlement of public and private funds, most Nigerians have gone to the world beyond as a result of armed robbery attacks on them or buses suspected to be carrying large sums of money, as evident on the Nnewi traders.

Today, the rate of armed robbery attacks on major highways have reached an alarming rate, resulting in the call by Association of Luxury Bus Owners to start tinkering on banning of night travels.

However, banks have introduced systems that will discourage people from carrying large sums of money more especially when traveling, such as debit card.

Equally they introduced online banking which enables account holders in a particular bank to withdraw money in the same bank but in another branch located elsewhere in the country, which also is known as intra-bank transfer.

Investigations revealed that Nigerians are impatient to wait if, for instance, a server of an online system is down and could not access information stored thereof. Therefore, most people still prefer to carry cash in order not to waste time.

But with the consolidation of banks which has strengthened the option of debit card as an alternative means of transaction, although its limited withdrawal has become a subject, Nigerians are expected to massively turn to the use of cards for transactions.

Debit cards issued by banks on Interswitch platform enables account holders to withdraw money from Automated Teller Machine (ATM) of the bank in any other branch at any time.

So, it is worrisome that most people out of ignorance have refused to use the system in spite of awareness been made on its usage by banks.

But the major challenge as gathered by our correspondent in the use of debit cards, have been the accessibility of ATM to bank customers outside major towns and cities.

In Lagos, for instance, most of the working ATMs of the banks are installed or located in Victoria Island, Lagos Island and some areas in Ikeja. There are very few ATM located in the mainland of Lagos and its environs as well as most state capital, where these banks have branches.

As Nigerians continue to yearn for a cashless society, an endearing change can only be achieved through encouraged usage of cards, via promotions, at least, by 25 consolidated banks.

This way, deployment of ATMs would find its path in the towns beyond major cities.

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