My Bank May Have Smoked Crack

I’ve been meaning to get this one out of my system since July 2010. No use complaining about lack of time, so here it  goes:

I’ve been a happy Guaranty Trust Bank customer for close to 5 years now. I am usually so quick to praise and recommend them that I often come across as someone who has a vested interest in this bank.

That’s how much confidence I have in their sensibility.

Recently though, they woke up from a deep sleep and decided to change their ATM cards. They claim that the switch was necessary in order to move to a more secure type of card. The over-marketed "chip & pin" type card. Great People!

Correct me if you think I am wrong. Practically all the ATMs in this country are magnetic-stripe based. Which means we are being sold a whole lot of canned air whenever they say the new card is more secure.

All the information contained on the "chip & pin" still has to be stored on the magnetic stripe, so that you can still use it with the millions of (magnetic stripe) ATMs all over the country, and the few POS outlets in the country. Where’s the security now? This feels like Y2K all over again. Great Nation!

You see, Interswitch was one of the first electronic payment platforms in Nigeria to gain mainstream popularity. All Nigerian banks jumped on the bandwagon, and despite all its availability and reliability problems, its popularity saved many a Nigerian the trouble of queuing up for 3 hours at UBA in order to withdraw ₦5,000 for the weekend. When it worked, it worked beautifully, and was deeply appreciated. Life was like a dream.

So the days went by, and we arrived in 2010, revelling in the electronic cash dream. Everyone was quiet. ATMs were commonplace, they were now part of the average man’s subconscious. Yea, there were new kinds of frauds, but surely, the benefits of having one ubiquitous payment platform were greater than the risks.

Then it happened. One sunny day, I got an unexpected email from GTB informing me that my "new GTB chip & pin naira mastercard" was ready for pickup. Wow, where did that come from?

It may not be so bad, i thought. Does this mean I can use the new mastercard on Amazon.com? This would save me from having to go and get US dollars from the parallel market, in order to deposit into my dollar-denominated Visa account before I can buy a 10 dollar book off amazon. NO.

Well, what then is the point? This one is chip & pin, it is more secure (duh!), and it is the first Naira Mastercard ever. He he.

But there is still a magnetic stripe on the new card. (Pretend you didn’t hear that).

Oh well, it has been forced on me anyway, so I pick it up from my branch. It doesn’t take long to realise that not all banks are able to process Mastercards! AWESOME. My card has suddenly lost its limbs. Now I have to be careful when I run out of cash, because I may not have a nearby Mastercard understanding machine to save me.

This won’t be too bad, if all the banks are switching to Mastercard, then it would only be a while before everyone supports mastercard too! Dead Wrong. Others are switching to Visa. Others to Interswitch’s matching "chip & pin" offering, the Verve card!

To sum up this potentially long narrative, my dear pot smoking bank:

  • Has decided to cripple my debit card by limiting the places where I can use it (mastercard is not univerally supported in Nigeria).
  • Has poisoned the notion I had of Mastercard and Visa (a mastercard is a mastercard. Not any more!). There are some Mastercards which will work everywhere a Mastercard logo is displayed, and there are some that won’t work everywhere (the one my bank gave me). Nice.
  • Billed me ₦1,000 for the generous favour. Thank you very much.

Fanen Ahua
Random Quote:
Biology is the only science in which multiplication means the same thing as division.

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