I experienced a POS dispense error. The POS transaction failed at the merchants location but my account debited. Like someone that doesn’t like to lose my earned money, I connected to the designated account manager, choosing the WhatsApp option from the bank app. Having sent the WhatsApp message towards the end of May 2020, the bank official asked that I email my complaint to a designated address. Upon emailing, I neither received an acknowledgement or a resolution even after reminder messages. While waiting for a response from that touch point, I explored alternatives and called my account manager for feedback on the process. He apologised on behalf of his colleague and explained their wariness of the WhatsApp channel, because of an increase in fraudulent instructions during the Covid-19 period. No worries, we agreed I would forward the complaint needing his action. I resent the email mid-June 2020, and he acknowledged receipt saying the recall was in process and the resolution would take effect within 5 - 8 working days. Well, we have crossed into July and the process is still pending.
This experience is neither unique to my bank or me.
Let’s imagine this happened to a low-income earner who manages his or her resources. Such a failure can destabilise that person. The complaints resolution process and time have become problematic. How can a consumer feel safe in this environment? This is a clarion call on the financial services ecosystem because while we don’t expect perfection, we expect a reasonable amount of care and empathy dealing with failed transactions.
Consumer protection and complaints management is a fundamental and trust building element of financial services, digital financial services (DFS) and financial inclusion.
First, financial services providers, deposit money banks in particulat, have not been without spot or blemish. Bank failures have affected Nigerians and the deposit insurance safety net and processing periods have not been confidence building. Second, though digital channels exude convenience, the failure rates and recovery processes further hamper the adoption and use of financial services.
Being familiar with banking operations and processes, I understand that communications and handoffs between the issuer bank (issuer of the debit card) and the acquiring bank (provider of POS terminal) are not seldom seamless and hence the customer bears the brunt for these lapses while the banks flout the regulators guidelines of 48 hours now.
As an advocate for financial inclusion, consumer protection is a burning issue that can either build or destroy faith in the financial systems. Consumer protection refers to safeguarding consumers against unfair practices, like effective complaints management and resolution processes.
Financial inclusion refers to the provision and usage of affordable financial services. The basic transaction account is a proxy measure of financial inclusion. Notwithstanding, financial inclusion is not an end; the transaction account and financial inclusion are the entry points to ensuring financial health - a state which the Consultative Group to Assist the Poverty (CGAP) describes as when your daily systems help you build resilience and pursue opportunities.
The operative phrases being building resilience and pursing opportunities. Resilience is the capacity to recover from difficulties and one’s ability to recover depends on their socio-economic status. In a country like Nigeria where the lion share are poor, N1,000 (circa $2.50) may represent resilience for one individual for one day or one week. There are repercussions when that individual operates a bank account and experiences a dispense error either at the point of sale (POS) terminal or automated teller machine (ATM) and redress and resolutions are not prompt.
Fixing complaints resolution is a task that needs ecosystem collaboration and cooperation through inter-organisational systems and processes where all ATM and POS ecosystem actors are present and active and transaction data shared among all parties. Technology unavailability is not the limitation, it’s the lack of attention and prioritisation. How can all ecosystem actors own and commit to this universal problem? Through [artificial] intelligent technologies, why can’t the same POS terminal that confirms a decline receipt not notify the issuer bank that prevents the debit transaction?
My belief is rather than building shiny apps, financial service providers should build the services beneath the apps, focusing on retaining customers through speedy and efficient complaints management and resolution processes. The inferior service quality in addressing and resolving complaints needs some shine!