Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

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Subjects of Interest

  • Financial Market
  • Fiscal Policy

Bring back confidentiality to banking transactions 17 Sep 2021

As I was planning a trip to the United States last month, I applied for a Personal Travel Allowance (PTA) in line with the new policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). It was largely a straightforward process, although one that takes days to complete, contrary to the information being given by the banks that the transaction could be initiated and completed in just one visit to any of their branches. My startling experience came when I wanted to collect the foreign exchange.

“You are welcome, Mr. Akintunde. Have you now received the debit alert?”, the teller in charge of processing my transaction asked, grinning, as I walked towards her desk. I was taken aback. The familiarity was okay, but she had a customer seated in front of her and another one was being attended to by her colleague who shares the same counter with her.

“Yes, I have,” I said, as I stood to maintain a social distance from the customers being attended to. After a while, the teller lifted her eyes towards me and asked if I brought my international passport as I would need it to collect my PTA. She seemed interested in shortening my waiting time, as it appeared that the business the customer in front of me came to conduct would take some more time to complete.

“No,” I replied reluctantly, but politely. “You didn’t tell me I would have to bring back my passport. When I came to apply for the PTA three days ago, I brought it; you checked it and kept the photocopies of its relevant pages I had brought alongside.”

“You need to present your passport to collect your dollars,” the customer in front of the teller turned towards me and said, as he temporarily took over the job of the teller and at the same time, he wanted me to reckon with him as a global citizen, and a frequent international traveller to boot. By this time, everyone within a hearing distance had known the business I came to transact and that I could be leaving the bank with up to $4,000.00 cash, the maximum amount the CBN approves for a PTA.

I was upset, and torn between educating the teller about the need for confidentiality in attending to me and insisting that she had failed to properly inform me of the requirements for collecting my PTA. I decided for the latter, since the former is a major industry-wide issue, fitting more for where I am now discussing it, in the hope of triggering more effective responses by the banking regulator and the banks themselves.

In many respects, Nigerian banks have come of age. They had been well capitalised. Since the introduction of the cashless policy of the CBN, the banks have significantly invested in technology. They are, indeed, at the forefront of the adoption of digital banking in the world. Leveraging their technological savvy, many Nigerian banks are involved in cross-border banking, having subsidiaries and representative offices in Africa, Asia, the Gulf States, Europe and North America.

It is professionally gratifying for me to see some of the banks embracing sustainable banking principles and sustainability generally. As the Nigeria Country Representative to the European Organisation for Sustainable Development (EOSD), I have been professionally involved in helping some of the banks to mainstream sustainability into their strategies, processes and practices, through the Sustainability Standards and Certification Initiative (SSCI) of the EOSD.

However, as Nigerian banks embrace new “best practices”, they seem to forget about the old ones sometimes. All the more so, if the good, old practices are no longer receiving regulatory emphasis, in a fast-changing economic and banking landscape in which regulators are having to catch-up with addressing emerging risks arising from innovation forays of the operators.

Whereas Nigerian banks have adopted new principles and standards for customers’ data protection, a sine qua non for digital banking, they no longer observe the confidentiality principle in handling the transactions of their customers in the banking halls. It has become a standard procedure for a teller to be simultaneously attending to multiple customers across the counter. Without being conscious of the professional malpractice and the security risk it portends, the teller would make no adequate effort, if at all, to prevent the customers from knowing what business each of them is transacting.

This abandonment of an important banking norm has become quite pronounced as the Nigerian society becomes observably more chaotic. It indicates that the banks are not providing some aspects of the basic banking training for their tellers and cashiers. The managements of the banks also seem to overlook banking confidentiality principle, as we see growing acquiescence to the descent of the Nigerian society into disorder.

To stop the mayhem in our banking halls, the CBN needs to reassert regulatory compliance to banking confidentiality. Together with the regulated banks, the CBN should help restore the good practices of queuing up to access services and being served on first-come-first-served basis. Circumventing this, either ostensibly to save time or because of sheer multitasking, breeds disorder, unprofessional conduct, and poor job performance.

Many modern institutions now take their duty of care beyond satisfying the need of regulatory compliance. They continue to innovate on the best ways to better serve their customers, meet expectations of other stakeholders, advance societal progress, and protect the environment. With 73.2 million banking customers in 2019, Nigerian banks can contribute to a new Nigerian social order.