Banking in Nigeria

While I was in Nigeria I went to a bank in Akure, Ondo state, for the first time and it was a little different from what I’m used to, both good and bad. I wasn’t trying to open an account or do anything complicated: I simply wanted to withdraw money from an existing account. My main branch (which I’ve never been to, by the way) is in Lagos and I was in Akure. I had opened the account from Canada and do not have a debit card.

In-person banking

First of all: the security. I’m certain the Lagos airport doesn’t have anywhere near this level of security! There was a security guard at the bank’s entrance and he asked my mom and I if we had a mobile phone or other questionable objects. When we said yes, we were asked to take them out of our purses, put them in our hands, and walk—one at a time—into separate capsules that looked like they could transport us somewhere. The capsules closed behind us and presumably scanned us before the capsule door on the side of the bank opened, letting us in—well, not exactly! My mom got in but I must have walked in and out of that capsule five times, and I had to empty my purse before realizing that some of my belongings were a no-no and had to be locked outside the bank in some available lockers. Now I understood why most of the women who walked through the other capsule (while I was going in and out) only had a small wallet in their hands.

Once inside, the second thing that hit me was how refreshing it was in the bank! Seriously, these Akure banks (we went to two that day) had the best air conditioning in the country: icy cold and refreshing after the heat and humidity of the day. So cold that if I wasn’t so grateful I would have complained that it was…too cold in the bank!

I thought I knew what was going on once I entered the bank: there was a lineup for the bank tellers on the right and on the left, there were two rows of chairs that looked like an overflow area for people waiting to see one of the three clerks who had desks side by side. Each desk had one or two chairs in front of it, also occupied by people. We stood in the waiting area for a while, wondering why no one was moving, and no one seemed to be talking business to the clerks either. Finally, we asked someone if they were in line and nope, all those people in the “waiting area” and in front of the clerks were not waiting o. Maybe they just wanted a break from the heat outside. Anyway, since I had business to conduct, two of the people sitting in front of a clerk moved so I could be attended to.

The lady who served me was respectful when addressing me—my supersize self often gets called “ma” or “madam”, lucky me (sarcasm)—but after that her politeness only went so far. She asked me to fill out a form which I did, and then for the next 10 or 15 minutes, nothing happened. She sat there looking at her computer and doing paperwork unrelated to the form I had returned to her. I tried to be patient but when I saw her gisting with colleagues and other patrons of the bank, while my mom and I sat there exchanging looks, I asked her what was going on. She told me that her computer was acting up so her colleague would have to look up my account—but I didn’t see her actually tell her colleague this until I asked—was her colleague was supposed to read her mind?

We had to wait a while. The colleague kept me updated at least, which was nice. Once the original clerk was able to continue the process of allowing me to make my withdrawal, colleagues and patrons continued to interrupt her, handing her forms, and asking questions, and she continued to prioritize answering them, even when she could have progressed with the work on my file. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement, but aside from a lot of eye-rolling and looks exchanged with my mom, I kept it together. It doesn’t matter where I am: I have no patience for rudeness related to people skipping the line or breaking rules but at the same time I’m too self-conscious to cause a scene.

As I mentioned, all I wanted to do was withdraw money from my account. After at least 45 minutes with the clerk, I was given a slip of paper to take with me to the lineup for the tellers. There were three tellers and not up to 10 people in line but it seemed like after serving each patron, the tellers had to go and do something else (aside from serving the next person in line). On top of that, customers who had already been served by the teller were returning to the line (in front of those waiting, of course) with questions or filled-out documents. Things appeared disorganized and everything took a long time, despite there being a bank employee at the front of the line, directing things. I still can’t figure out why it all appeared so inefficient.

Banking in Canada is less of a big deal: security measures are different (no screening to get in, for example), withdrawing money from a different branch of the same bank would have been handled by the tellers rather than clerks, and people wait their turn: I’ve never seen a clerk or teller serve more than one person at a time—they wait until a client is finished before dealing with the next person. The process to open a new bank account and withdraw money from it would be completed in 15 minutes. We were in the bank for about two hours for a simple withdrawal!

Another thing I noticed, which I know will change in the coming years, is how much of the process is still old school (ledger books and hand-written receipts). These manual aspects added to the time taken. If banks can afford to run generators that power super-cold air conditioners, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they fully computerize their systems. And maybe other banks are fully computerized—I only went to two.

All in all, it wasn’t the worst experience. I only visited two banks so maybe my experience wasn’t typical, but it certainly made me appreciate the fact that I can easily take care of my banking during my lunch break, especially when just this week a friend told me he spent about five hours in the bank trying to his pay school fees because the system was down. I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to spend more than half of a workday in the bank (when you don’t work there!).

When I get to the level where I can go to Nigeria every year I’ll definitely get a debit card, but since they expire after a year of inactivity it didn’t make sense to get one this time around.

Online banking

I’m a fan of online banking and I use it all the time, but I had been having trouble accessing my Nigerian bank account online since the end of last year. The bank couldn’t figure out what the problem was, so they told me to sort out my BVN, which I did in April—see #7. I didn’t bother trying to do online banking in Nigeria because my internet connection wasn’t good.

First of all, with my Nigerian account I need a soft token, which from what I understand is an added level of authentication, so it’s great. However, the process of getting a soft token was time-consuming: it took about 36 hours of back and forth on social media, email, and phone to get things sorted out. I started the soft token process, the website timed out, my account was charged the requisite ₦1,500, but I didn’t have a working soft token. I refused to call the bank (because I wanted them to assume the costs!), and they were having network issues so they couldn’t dial my number. I decided to try to create a new soft token, but I couldn’t because the system only allows one soft token and it was detecting my newly-created-but-nonfunctional token. But thankfully everything got sorted out and I have full access to my account–Twitter to the rescue, for real.

The process to transfer money to someone appeared way more secure in Nigeria than in Canada:

  1. Fill out the details of who you want to send the money to, how much you are sending, etc.; this is similar to how it’s done anywhere else. I really like that when you enter the account number and bank name, the system displays the name of the person who is linked to the account so you can be sure you’re sending the money to the right person–in Canada you use an email address and you don’t get that verification of the name of the person attached to the email address. Is this the power of the BVN?
  2. Wait for a one-time password to be generated and emailed to you (tip: it takes a while to get this email so wait at least five minutes before pressing the button to have the one-time password resent to you).

  3. Enter the one-time password on the transfer form.
  4. Use a separate app (desktop and mobile versions are available) to generate a code that will be added to the transfer form. The code has a lifespan of about 30 seconds after which a new code is automatically generated.
  5. Submit your transfer request and wait for that lovely screen that says the transfer was approved!

I applaud these security measures for online banking in Nigeria—the process is lengthy as a result but I feel much more confident doing long-distance transactions now. I’m not a fan of the in-person banking at the bank branch but I’m hopeful that things will become more streamlined and computerized in the coming years.

What is your best (or worst) bank-related story?

15 thoughts on “Banking in Nigeria

  1. I hate visiting the banks here in Lagos but this your experience takes the top of the cake…I am not sure I can even sit in a bank for that long…and the cashiers in Lagos sort of understand how impatient Lagosians are.

    Online and mobile banking is the way for me, I can’t even shout.


    • Thank you for commenting, Lara: you made me smile. If you needed access to your money you’d have to wait o: it’s frustrating but I felt like there was no other choice.

      I’m sure that mobile banking is more than logging into your online bank account from your phone…that’s all I do!

    • Hi Sula! How are you? Now you have my curiosity piqued: what makes dealing with banks in Francophone African countries most frustrating?

  2. I can totally relate to your frustrations when it comes to banking in Nigeria. I moved to Ogun State in the first quarter of the year and opened up my first bank account with a well known bank. It was hell and it took me a month till I was finally able to even access my account. I also hate the long lines and the rude staff. They know nothing about good customer service.

    I really enjoyed reading your post by the way :)

    • Oh my gosh: your experience sounds extremely frustrating–I bet you avoid in-person banking as much as possible these days!

      Thank you for stopping by, Anne–I appreciate your lovely comment! :)

  3. Online banking is probably why i don’t temporarily cancel my internet even when i should to save money. That and paying things online. I cant give it up.
    Worse bank experience? trying to redeem a mutilated dollar bill only to find out that it has to be sent to the treasury registered mail at like 8 bucks to get a dollar back

    • Hi Matt!

      Online banking is so handy, and a life without internet is hard for me to contemplate so I can see your dilemma.

      Now that’s just silly: why can’t the bank do a simple bill swap and send mutilated bills to the treasury themselves?

  4. Thats the reason why i don’t use tellers to withdraw cash. Prefer debit cards | About what you said that they expire during one year of inactivity
    How about getting a mastercard, i guess that type of card should be able to work both when you’re home and away

    • Thanks for stopping by, Tunde. The idea of getting a credit card is worth looking into; I appreciate the tip!

      Because I’m so much into saving money, it pains me to pay interest or service charges. I will check what the bank will charge me to use my Nigerian credit card in Canada.

  5. We have poor customers’ service in Nigeria. I have had bad experiences too. They feel, they are doing a customer a favour, when it ought to be the reverse! Glad everything got sorted out for you.

    From home I heard people say there is no money in the country which I believed without thinking of the irony behind it.
    I dressed up like a queen that wanted to visit her nation and strolled sluggishly to the bank. When I got to the bank, I was shocked to see the whole world gathered in just a bank. The most annoying thing was the cashier, he was as slow as a snail. I stood with all the styles I learnt from NYSC, dog style, cat style, monkey style e.t.c. To cut the long story short, I went by 8A.M but finished by 3PM. I went looking like a queen but I went back home looking like an ancestral slave that was ready to be sacrificed.

    Your experience was not an easy one. I know how it feels. Sorry oh.
    I love your blog

    Check out my fiction story blog

    • Thanks for sharing, Ama Ruth: I can’t tell if this is something that actually happened to you or if you wanted to share your storytelling flair!

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