The Joys (and Pains) of Digital Banking in Nigeria

By Charles Ogbonna and Chuks Emele


  • Goodbye to long lines in banking halls and associated paper work
  • Ease of transaction a big boost to business and economic activities
  • You have access to your bank at anytime from your phone or computer


  • The risk of hackers and criminals targeting vulnerable accounts
  • A high number of failed and unresolved transactions held up in banks
  • A changing pattern of violent crime where people are kidnapped and forced to divulge account information

No doubt, the introduction of digital banking in Nigeria brought a lot of joy to many. 

Just saying goodbye to the long lines one had to endure in banks for the simplest of transactions was a big cause for joy. Sending and receiving money became a breeze. “I don get alert” became a part of our lexicon.

But it brought its pains as well. Take transaction failures, for instance, and the anguish associated with getting the banks to correct an error that’s in their favour. Or is it the relentless menace of criminals laying all manner of physical and  digital traps to deprive you of your money?

Christiana Ituwe, an agricultural technology graduate, works as a civil servant in Lagos. But she’s also a businesswoman on the sides. The use of digital banking, particularly the automated teller machines (ATMs), put a lot of smiles on her face, she said. It’s been a mainstay of her business, saving her what would’ve been interminable hours in the banking halls, and making it possible for her to combine both office work and business. 

Ike Okonkwo, who deals in clothing materials in the southeastern city of Onitsha, had to make trips with large sums of money to purchase his wares, with all the risks involved. Digital banking took care of most his risks as he can use his payment cards or make bank transfers via his bank app or USSD codes, to his business associates. These days he would transfer money and the suppliers will send his goods and provide him a waybill number to receive them, so he cuts out the risks of travel as well.

ATMs are central to digital banking.

Amaka Ugwu, who teaches  French language in a secondary school in Lagos, recalls receiving a call on a recent evening from someone who claimed to be from her bank, First Bank. The person sent over her bank verification number (which is supposed to be confidential) to boost his credibility, claiming that scammers had obtained her details and were trying to access her account. To block them, he needed the last six digits of her ATM card, and he also sent over a form asking her to fill in a few more details, scan the form and send back. 

Having been forewarned by her knowledge of widespread scams, she was armed with enough information not to fall for the trick. “I insisted to the caller that I would rather go into my bank branch to deal with the problem,” she said. “He immediately hung up.”

It’s not everyone that’s guarded enough to escape such fraudulent antics as they come in so many varied forms. And as people increasingly make cashless transactions, even armed robbers are evolving too.

Adenine Adesanya, another Lagos resident, would on a normal day she would leave home at 4:30 a.m. to beat the traffic and get to the office on time. One day at the bus stop, a white Toyota bus already with some passengers announced it was going to her destination and she jumped in without hesitation.

It wasn’t long before she realized something was wrong. Just then she was dazed with a slap by the male passenger sitting next to her. Another pointed a gun to her face and they demanded for her ATM cards. Now a hostage, she was forced to divulge her password, as the gang drove to a nearby ATM. There they transferred 150,000 naira, then with her phone they made online payments of 650,000 naira. Afterward they applied a peppery ointment on her face and pushed her out of the bus disoriented and stranded.

All in an app

Julia Ekong, a Lagos company employee remembers the day her husband received a call purported to be from a courier service delivery man, informing him that a parcel would be delivered to him at home in 30 minutes. A package containing an expensive brand of wine was delivered, and he was asked for a refund of the 1,000 naira duty paid by the courier company to clear the item through customs. Payment had to be made using a card, the delivery man insisted.

Less than 20 minutes after the fake courier left, Mr Ekong started getting withdrawal alerts at a stupefying rate. Before he could rush to the bank to block the account, 350,000 naira had gone. Indeed  talking to people about their recent banking experiences, it appears there are just as many tales of joy as there are those of woe. Things get so bad sometimes with failed transactions, lack of cash in ATMs and patchy networks, that it appears as if all the benefits have been negated. Even more worrisome for many is the appearance of inadequate protection from the regulatory authorities for customers who get the short shrift from the banks.

Nosa Adeiza, an Abuja-based consultant, finds a lot of axes to grind with the banks  over unresolved, failed transactions. On two different occasions in the last two years, he tried to withdraw money from ATMs that failed to dispense while debiting his account. One was an Access Bank machine and the other was owned by Heritage Bank. Despite reporting back to his bank, Standard Chartered, the matter was never resolved. Then he ran into a dead end when his bank couldn’t find a copy of the complaint he filed.

Equally painful for Adeiza, was his recent experiences with Zenith Bank. He used their app to pay for an airline ticket using its link to the Quickteller payment platform. While Quickteller acknowledged the payment, Arik Air never issued the ticket. Quickteller then informed Adeiza that it will reverse the payment to the Zenith Bank account. It wrote an email instruction to Zenith to refund the 47,200 naira under their agreed accounts reconciliation terms. 

Zenith never refunded the money. When contacted on their Twitter handle, Zenith claimed it was awaiting additional information from Quickteller. It never provided additional feedback, it never refunded the money.

Adeiza is convinced that these banks deliberately build sizable stashes of funds from such unresolved transactions and trade with them for unaccountable profit. 

His attempts to reach out to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s public complaints unit didn’t yield any fruits. The complaints link on the central bank’s website says one must first raise a complaint with the concerned bank, which should open a ticket for the case. People were to escalate to the regulator if such cases aren’t treated in two weeks.

First Bank’s online banking.

Adeiza said Zenith Bank had asked him to put his complaint in writing and promised to resolve the matter in 5 business days. After three months passed, Adeiza filed a complaint to the CBN in March this year. He got an automated reply from the central bank, and that was it. 

“There’s been nothing ever since,” said Adeiza, not hiding his frustration and despair about what has proved a hopeless situation. “I get this feeling that the central bank has taken sides with the banks against us, the poor customers. Can we ever win?”

Jemimah Andrews, a customer service officer at Access Bank, provided some insight into what often happens on the side of the banks. The complaints received every day generally have to do with customers debited by ATMs without payment, transfers that don’t deliver to beneficiaries, seizure of bank cards by ATM machines, among others.

Andrews is of the view that both banks and customers have a share of the blame. For instance, many ATMs are programmed to seize the cards when the customer takes an undue amount of time in executing steps in the transactions. Some get to the point of withdrawal and forget the pass codes and hesitate for too long, prompting the machines into action.

While Access Bank strives to adhere to the central bank’s requirement to reverse failed transactions and transfers, a lot depends on how quickly a complaint is lodged. Often such transactions are beset with network problems, further delaying reversals, she said.

There are also times when complaints fall through the cracks and end up not being treated.

Then reversals are more difficult with point-of-sale transactions as banks have many operators and have to dig into each account statement before it can reconcile such transactions.

In many ways, digital banking in Nigeria is like the proverbial elephant, described in terms of its aspects that are encountered. The result is a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly.