Several loopholes in the application of this new requirement mean that millions of account holders will engage in panic withdrawals.
The Bank Verification Number initiative, while being yet another cumbersome attempt at Nigeria’s personal data management plans, has been commended by stakeholders.
As part of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s cashless policy, it aims to capture data and check fraud in the banking system by giving every bank customer a unique identification number that can be verified across all banks in the country.
However, like most laudable initiatives in this country, the application is flawed. For one, customers who operate accounts in several banks are required to physically present their BVN to all the banks they operate with.
What is more, this information is only available to the customer via vague emails sent by the banks. There is presently no system to allow customers to send their BVN via any electronic or mobile channels to their banks.
Which brings to mind the question: If the BVN is a centralized system that can be accessed by all banks, why can’t the banks check their customers’ details in the system to ascertain those who have registered and update accordingly?
What this means is that anyone who perhaps travelled out of the country after registering for and securing his/her BVN, and did not go round to all his/her banks to update them, will have to withdraw his/her funds before June 30 to avoid being shut out of his/her accounts.
This same scenario would also play out for the millions of Nigerians in the diaspora. As the deadline looms, many Nigerians living abroad who have accounts in Nigeria have been making frantic efforts to understand how they may be allowed a concession.
In a situation where they do not get any clarity, and have no plans to visit Nigeria before June 30, they would either risk being shut out of their accounts or relocate their funds.
Sensitization, which has always been the bane of our reforms, is very poor especially in rural areas. Media reports state that a substantial percentage of the Nigerian banking population are still unaware of the initiative months after it commenced.
According to Abike Olaitan, a trader in Lagos, the information she received about the exercise made her think it was a reminder of one that was conducted three years ago. As the deadline looms, more of such confused customers may simply withdraw their funds and wait for more clarity.
A better clarification of the penalties that await defaulters should also be made. From some banks warning that customers who fail to update may be barred from online transactions to some banks threatening defaulters with an outright ban on all banking transactions, the exercise shows a confusion that should not be associated with the banking industry.
To the layman, all this confusion triggers panic, and this will lead people to withdraw their funds and keep them somewhere safer, like under pillows.
We cannot continue like this. In an age where other nations have gone completely cashless, Nigeria cannot continue to grapple with situations where people feel safer carrying their savings in their pockets.
The CBN needs to step-in to ensure that this initiative is carried out in a more organised method as it winds down.
Bank customers who have received their BVN should be able to update all their accounts via electronic or mobile channels. Nigerians living abroad should be exempted from the June 30 deadline. Nigerians living in villages should be educated more about this initiative. Stakeholders therefore need to get off their rocking chairs and ensure that the BVN initiative does not lead to more cash under our pillows.