SMS ALERTS,  THE ORDINARY NIGERIAN AND THE CURRENT RECESSION By Endurance Okpa Agbor.

For it is by His mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassion fails not” Lam 3:22

Hello beautiful people of IMFY. I appreciate the love you all show on the blog. I am overwhelmed. Thank you so much.

Today, I would be featuring someone special. Someone I had, have and still look up to. We were colleagues in the Children’s Parliament and he may or may not not this, but he has been a huge influence in areas of my life. So please read, and leave your comments and thoughts if you can relate.


Endurance Okpa Agbor holds an LL.B (First Class Honours) from the University of Calabar and a BL (2.1) from the Nigerian Law School, where he served as Chairman of the Students’ Representative Council of the Lagos Campus during the 2015/2016 session. He is an author of several works of fiction.

 



If you have ever been at that stage in your life when the last dough in your account was exactly N2,000, out of which you could only withdraw N1,000, and then you suddenly got a notification from your bank intimating you that N4 had been deducted from your account as SMS alerts charges, then you will totally relate to this piece. I mean, which ATM would agree to pay you N996? Some of us have had to stroll into the bank just to pay in N100 – cash we most likely borrowed to get to the ATM gallery – just to shore up the dough in the bank and to get the ATM to be kind to us. Can I get a witness?

Now, don’t get me wrong; the right SMS alert can be a darling. If you doubt me, ask Korede Bello. However, what I do not understand, and what I believe a lot of people would not also understand, is why SMS alerts are now being used as weapons to deplete the accounts of ordinary Nigerians like yours truly.


The very first time I received a message from my bank on my birthday, a few years back, I was, in my naiveté, frankly excited. Indeed, I was very much so until I discovered I was being charged N4 by my bank each year my bank decided on its own to wish me a happy birthday I did not send it to. Yes, your bank charges you N4 for each happy birthday text it sends you. I mean, what happened to wishing a customer a happy birthday on his birthday for the sake of it? Should everything be an avenue for profit making? It is worse for some of us who have, fortunately or unfortunately, opened 4 or 5 accounts in different banks; that’s like N20 of your hard earned money going to your bankers for their deciding on their own volition to wish you a happy birthday with an impersonal and very generic message.

The same thing happens when the bank decides to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Eid El Fitr, etc. Most scandalous, to me, is that my bank sends me an unsolicited message to inform me that they would be a system upgrade or routine maintenance between 2.00 am and 4.00 am on Sunday morning, and so I would be unable to use its facilities, and then it charges me N4 for that, like it is my fault. I mean, come on.

Now, I know many may write me off as being petty because N4 seems too insignificant. True, N4 is somewhat insignificant today. In fact, N5 notes are virtually nonexistent today –this shows just how insignificant N5 and amounts below it are. Well, you only need to be in the position I painted in the first paragraph to be appreciative of what wonders N4 can work in your life.

Furthermore, let’s assume my bank, which has a very large customer base, has about 1,000,000 registered accounts – note that people sometimes own more than one account in a particular bank – and each time the bank sends its supposed goodwill messages at Christmas and other celebrations of a general nature, it rakes in a whopping N4,000,000! Shuu! Yes, this is how they use to do o!
Let’s go on with the analysis:

At the end of the month, my bank sends me a statement of account via SMS alert, and I’m like, I already saw my account balance when I received the very last SMS credit/debit alert. Better still, the monthly statement of account sent to my email is sufficient.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a tech whiz, but I have never understood why I get separate alerts for the amount I transfer to another bank account and the attendant N100 service charge. Is it really impossible to have one SMS alert detailing both deductions like is done with the N65 deduction (another story of its own) after the third time of using another bank’s ATM in any given month?

In a month when I have not carried out any transaction on my account – because there isn’t any to be transacted – and none of the frivolous goodwill messages gets into my phone, I get an SMS alert telling me my account balance at the end of the month. Later, I get another SMS alert telling me that N4 was deducted for the previous alert containing my account balance. Then again, I get yet another alert practically telling me, “Ah! O boy, we just deducted N4 as SMS alert charges for the SMS alert telling you that N4 was deducted from your account for the account balance SMS alert.” And the cycle just continues!

To say that this is unfair, especially to the ordinary Nigerian, is to describe this attitude of our banks mildly. Why all the tricks, really? Why can’t there just be some honesty about the way SMS alerts charges are billed?

On the cost of SMS alerts, to be really honest, there is no doubt that it is highly exorbitant. Normal text messaging can even be done for N3 now, so why peg the alerts at N4? A lot of us send bulk SMSs, and we know that platforms exist where the unit cost of such text messages is just N1. I believe it is even possible to get lower rates, especially for institutions with large customer bases, like banks. So, assuming, but not conceding, that it costs the banks N1 to send each SMS, a gain of at least N3 per SMS is made; in financial terms, that’s over a whopping 300% gain. Then again, we should also remember that banks can own their own bulk SMS platforms, which might extend their profit margins per SMS even wider. Diaris God in this business o!

Indeed, there isn’t a better time to initiate this conversation than now, when a lot of us are tightening our already tight belts even tighter, and when we cling on to every kobo with every might. This state of affairs kolewerk o! Someone cannot even play with these banks sef!

This is a call to action for the Consumer Protection Council and concerned Civil Society Organisations, and even a marketing opportunity for banks. I would be the first to jump ship to any bank that can offer me SMS alerts at N1, a bank that can kindly forget my birthday, Christmas, New Year, etc and that would kindly not bother to let me know about the system upgrades or routine maintenance that would occur around 2.00 am – biko I personally don’t use ATMs at this time. Better still, I would love a bank that can give me the opportunity to personalise my SMS alerts by choosing the kind of notifications I would really love to receive.

Lastly, the situation doesn’t look all gloomy. Section 37(3) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act, 2015, provides that any financial institution which makes an unauthorised debit on a customer’s account shall upon written notification by the customer, provide clear legal authorisation for such debit to the customer or reverse such debit within 72 hours. Failure to reverse such cash debit within 72 hours exposes the bank to criminal liability, for which it shall be liable on conviction to restitution of the debit and a fine of N5,000,000.

Methinks deducting sums of money from my account to wish me a happy birthday, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Eid El Fitr, etc, do not fall within the idea of SMS alerts as was sold to me when I decided to activate same on my account. The idea I had, alongside others like me, was that it was a service to provide me with credit alerts and debit alerts. In my opinion – call me naïve – all other so-called alerts have not been authorised by me o. So, until we can get the banks to stop the tricks, let’s control the alerts we receive. Start putting pen to paper!

You could reach him via Facebook: Endurance Okpa Agbor.

Thanks for reading. Love xx ❤❤

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