The Nigerian #BankWars were a fun distraction, but what we really want is good service

Bank Wars

I can confirm that my Bank was not on the battered side of Saturday’s #BankWars. They were not in the rocket-launcher declaration of war and so jeje-ly maintained non-intervention for the 40 hour duration of the online fisticuffs. They are neither allied nor axis, I assume.

But I want my bank to partake in a bank war, the type that financial institutions should actually be made to participate in. As in, offering actual banking services.

Four bank accounts to my name and all I can say is they are all the same but for one which allows withdrawals till the balance hits zero point zero zero. I understand there are a number of persons for whom banking works in Nigeria – industrialists, stomach infrastructure politicians, okada riders who are available for the emergency ATM user moving from machine to machine – but I kind of think there should be more.

You find branches of different banks within a street or perimeter, same way dealers in similar goods stay together in markets, from Wuse to Mandate. That street off Tafawa Balewa way in the Area 3 environs of Abuja often marveled me in the days I would follow my mum for bank transactions. Why so many banks, I would think. I liked banking environments though; Ibrahim Coomassie, the name of the now deceased former Inspector General of Police, always took my mind to the Coomassie House in Abuja where I, for the first time, joined mum to fill out a Western Union form at a First Bank branch there. There was a thrill to that first visit as they were going to attend to the fastest finger first. And we were!

Who gets that kind of thrill anymore? Besides receiving credit alerts, I would say we are all rather tired. Surely it must be one of the signs of adulthood to realize that the only thing banks really do is keep your money for their profits.

Which is not bad in itself but if that were the only service banks advertised worldwide, it would hardly be a profession to look up to. I figure JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have not become global names by pinching customers’ off various charges, everything from SMS alerts to charges for SIM swap (ok, I made the latter up. They aren’t there yet). Banks are licensed receivers of deposits but they are supposed to use the deposits to create credit. Banks and other financial institutions create money almost in the literal sense and it is on them that the strength of economies depends to an extent. It is not surprising then that recessions and depressions arise when they do their jobs poorly like with Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

It has not been that long ago that Nigerian Banks became stable, thanks to the famous N25 billion recapitalization move by the Chukwuma Soludo-led CBN in the mid 2000s. Checking the CBN’s published lists and being proud to see mum’s banks on the safe side was probably the first time I enjoyed reading newspapers growing up. However, two turned out later to be on the verge of going downhill thanks to the irresponsibility of their owners. But for another CBN intervention where they had to be bought by other banks, millions of customers’ deposits would have gone down with those malfeasant chief executives.

We have yet to have bank wars in Nigeria that has to do with top quality financial services that motivate customers towards financially creativity. People still fear banks and on Twitter, there reputation is really only about image-making squabbles like that of Saturday. By the content of annual reports and statements of accounts, Nigerian banks have exhibited monopolistic competition according to a 2013 study by researchers at the Obafemi Awolowo University. But how well has their monopoly worked out in terms of value for the Nigerian depositor?

They are doing some commendable things outside the core financial space. Where one invests in creating online social content, another has done admirably well for autism awareness for close to a decade. The USSD facility introduced by the latter was, maybe, the last time we had the semblance of a buzz (I’m retiring the war thing) of a financial nature among them in recent times but there’s not been much more since.

Banter is good on Saturdays especially as there was no football on TV. But on Monday, what majority of customers yearn for is simply to be served the definition of banking, with all its current world-class offerings.


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