By AMECHI OGBONNA and CHIMA TITUS NWOKOJI
Nearly two years after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in consultation with other regulators, forced some financial institutions into corporate marriages with some distressed banks, the pain of that adventure still appears to be trailing the Nigerian banking community. To some depositors, part of the frustrations of that unholy wedlock is that the bank’s high promises and customers expectations of enhanced customer service delivery have continued to fade everyday like an early morning haze, even when it is believed they are now strong enough financially to handle all operational challenges.
It would be recalled that the CBN motive for allowing Oceanic Bank International, Intercontinental Bank and Finbank Plc. to be acquired by Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, Access Bank and FCMB was to give their depositors and customers an unbroken record of service delivery, such that no one loses money in the process. It was against that background that the management of Ecobank Transnational Incorporated acquired 100 per cent of the assets and liabilities of defunct Oceanic Bank International at N15.4 billion in September, 2011, as part of strategies to expand its Nigerian network and enhance customer service delivery.
However, since that transaction was sealed, a recurring integration challenge trailing that business combination has continued to make some customers query ETI’s pan African claim. This was partly so because Ecobank Nigeria Plc., which runs on Flexcube Banking application, has been finding it increasingly difficult to integrate its operations and processes with Oceanic Bank’s Finacle software, leaving customers often stranded in banking halls. Only last week, for instance, Ecobank management had sent text and e-mail messages to customers to the effect that due to on-going upgrade of its ATM and other electronic banking platforms, its services will not be available to customers in Lagos and South West areas on March 23 and 24.
When contacted, a source at the bank told Daily Sun that the bank was implementing its migration in phases. “We have concluded migration in the South-South and the North. We are doing Lagos this weekend, after which all customers will be on Ecobank platform.” But those who should know argued that while they welcome the courtesy of advance information on the impending service disruption of the frequency of the bank’s service, down time was becoming too frequent and worrisome. With Easter celebration, when heavy cash withdrawals are made around the corner, the concern in some quarters is that if the system upgrade was not completed before the middle of this week, the event may be another nightmare for customers.
But some customers of the bank told Daily Sun that last week’s announcement was not the first time such information was being bandied around by the bank management which they alleged was fond of such antics in defend of its inability to perfect the robust technology that is working well in other institutions where they have been deployed. They lamented that often times customers inherited from Oceanic Bank were treated as second class clients, as they are compelled to go back to branches where accounts were originally domiciled to make withdrawals, pointing out it was unexpected of a bank that held so much promise at the beginning of the merge.
But according to IT professionals and software developers, Flexcube is a comprehensive and integrated yet modular core banking solution that caters to all the needs of modern financial institutions and its multiple business segments. It supports retail and corporate banking, treasury, investment and mutual funds requirements of modern financial institutions Its core service modules include user definability, and multicurrency general ledger that supports unlimited levels for accounting consolidation and reporting. Flexcube software also include management information system that provide comprehensive reports on several levels including customer, products business segment branches and bank wide limits across the customer exposure. The question on many peoples lips today is why then is Ecobank not exploiting the ruggedness of its flexcube to raise its service quality in the face of this persistent challenge that seem to threaten customer loyalty. Faced with the technical hitches in branches of the bank across the country, some aggrieved customers last week threatened to close their account unless the management takes urgent steps to reverse the trend.
They also called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to audit the bank’s acquisition credentials. Perhaps, the whole issue may boil down to the need for the Central Bank of Nigeria to set new service standards for commercial banks in the country as suggested by the Director General of the Standard Organization Nigeria Mr Joseph Odumodu who recently hinted his organization would issue fresh service standard to check poor service quality in the telecommunication sector. In that regard, the apex bank would be able to access the quality of the banking it infrastructure to ensure they match the claim of the managers Although Ecobank which rode on the crest of its parent body to scale all the Central Bank of Nigeria CAMELS tests remains healthy in the commercial banking space, its persistent flop in delivering customer service due to system incongruence is rather sending wrong signals to the business community that all may not be well with the transaction after all.
This is because with the benefit of hindsight, most customers would easily tag failure of a bank to pay them on demand as a sign of insolvency. ETI had obtained a $285 million facility from South Africa’s Nedbank to support its acquisition of the Nigerian bank which may be converted to 20 percent equity in Ecobank in 24 to 36 months. Based on the terms of the transaction, ETI acquired 100 per cent of the share capital of Oceanic Bank, and merging it with Ecobank of Nigeria Plc. However since the conclusion of the deal, customer service experience has been anything but convenient due to persistent system downtime.
Speaking to Daily Sun at Iju Road Branch, Lagos of Ecobank Nigeria Plc, recently for instance, some customers wondered why the integration of its banking software with that of Oceanic Bank believed to have been concluded more a year was still posing service challenges to customers. They pointed out that it was shocking that despite Nigeria’s improved banking infrastructure, customers of some of these banks are still being compelled to conduct their transactions in locations where they originally opened their accounts, a development many considered rather stressful. They therefore called on the CBN to further investigate some of the claims by the banks at the point of acquisition so ensure they are accurate.
A customer who preferred anonymity said he was disturbed when he was referred to a distant branch to withdraw cash even when he had hoped the merger of his former bank with Ecobank meant he would still enjoy same seamless services. Speaking on the exercise, former ETI’s chief executive Arnold Ekpe, told an international news agency then that ETI would complete the merger project with Oceanic by the end of 2012, while the legal merger would be completed this year. He said the merger had seen Ecobank climb to become the fifth-biggest lender in Africa’s most populous nation, from fourteenth a year ago.