By Akin Akinremi
The Central Bank of Nigeria had on February 14, 2014 under the then Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, now Emir of Kano, launched the Biometric Verification Number (BVN) with pomp and ceremony at the CBN e-building in Lagos. The launching was a result of the Bankers’ Committee Meeting early in the year where banks and other financial institutions complained about fraud and fraudulent activities in the banks. According to former CBN Governor Sanusi, the BVN was another important step towards strengthening the security of banking transactions and to ensure that fraudulent transactions are minimised, if not totally eliminated. It is an initiative of the CBN in conjunction with the Bankers’ Committee and NIBSS, meant to ensure the safety of customers’ funds and avoid losses through compromise of personal identification numbers and other criminal activities in the industry.
The campaign has been on for more than one year now and it is closing by June 31, 2015. The reluctance of banks customers to apply for BVN and the approaching deadline has caused anxiety within the Bankers’ Committee, which comprises the CBN, Chief Executives of Banks.
But the introduction of BVN has come with a lot of persuasive measures by the Banks, CBN and Nigerian Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS) to get banks customers to embrace the scheme. Members of the Bankers’ Committee highlighted the importance of the BVN at every turn. The NIBSS Boss Ade Sonubi said BVN would boost retail credits by helping banks to identify and blacklist fraudulent customers. He added that once banks are able to identify and blacklist fraudulent customers, they would be encouraged to extend loans to those customers that are credit-worthy and do not have any record of delinquent practices.
He further stated that people should not be scared of going for the BVN registration because it is free, they should not pay before registering at their banks.
On his part, the Executive Director of Sterling Bank, Abubakar Suleiman, said bank customer biometric registration would reduce forex fraud. He said this at a function in Lagos. According to him, BVN would make each bank customer have a unique identification, which would prevent people from violating the Central Bank’s recent policy on the use of naira-denominated debit cards for transactions.
But despite all the efforts of the CBN, NIBSS and banks to make sure that bank customers register for BVN through daily advertisements in newspapers, magazines and on radio and television, the percentage of customers that registered so far in March 2015 is just 7 percent of the almost 48.3 million bank customers in the country.
WESTERN POST understands that the CBN, NIBSS and Banks did not get it right at the beginning as they kept on spending huge amount of money on advertisements but forgot that the unbanked population in the country is three times more than those who have bank accounts. And instead of moving to the rural areas where people still keep money under their pillows to enlighten them on the importance of opening bank accounts and why they must fill the BVN forms.
There was also absence of proper enlightenment campaign for bank customers on the importance of the scheme. Most bank customers will want to transact their businesses and leave the banking hall immediately. Even though some banks adhere to CBN’s order that they should have a counter for BVN registration in their branches, but at times there will be no internet network to do the registration.
Only 7% of Bank Customers Captured by March 2015
NIBSS industry analysis of BVN registration linked to bank accounts, showing how the 23 banks in Nigeria with a total number of 48,389,614 bank customers are faring over BVN registration, revealed that only 7 percent registered for BVN as at March 2015. According to NIBSS, the 7% is equivalent to 3,340,962 accounts, which are linked with BVN.
The statistics released by NIBSS are as follows: Unity Bank with 886,647 customers had only 4,709 customers registered; GTBank with 5,851,934 customers registered 993,053; First Bank with 8,242,353 account holders had only 448,913 registered; Stanbic IBTC with 839,347 customers showed that 312,402 of them were registered so far, while Access Bank with 3,445,218 account holders registered 231,034.
Further breakdown of the banks showed that Fidelity Bank with 1,982,287 account holders, registered 180,052; FCMB registered 153,101 from among 1,329,432 account holders; UBA with 4,027,151 account holders registered 38,672; Ecobank with 6,668,070 accounts registered 89,385; Keystone Bank registered 10,935 out of 824,531 account holders; Standard Chartered registered 23,566 from 109,830 accounts while WEMA Bank registered 108,662 from 582,367 customers.
Heritage Bank registered 2,485 from 20,456 accounts, Sterling bank- 84,041 out of 1,068,425 accounts; Zenith Bank-199,179 from 2,597,362 active accounts.
However, Union Bank and Skye Bank registered 129,053 out of 2,062,356 and 91,179 out of 1,618,144 accounts respectively.
The total percentage of all the registered customers of the 23 deposit money banks in the country was just 7 percent of the total banking active accounts as at March 2015.
But now some bank customers fear CBN may impose some sanctions on them like non- accessibility of their accounts if they fail to register for BVN. And last week, the apex bank issued a circular to all DMBs and Discount Houses, asking them to use all internet banking portals as well as self service portals for the BVN registration. The CBN also pointed out that customers do not necessarily have to physically visit their branches for the processing of their accounts on the BVN platforms. This new circular to DMBs and discount houses may be the much-needed tonic to improve the total number of bank customers that will register for BVN in the days before the June 30 deadline.