Mr. Ubon was resting on his couch as he watched CNN news on television. The phone rang and he peered into it. It was a strange number, and he could not fathom who the call was from. He picked up the TV remote control and turned down the volume before answering the call.
No one said anything on the other line, and he decided not to say anything too, for fear of the unknown.
He was about to end the call, when a female voice came through finally, after long seconds of annoying silence.
“Hello. Please am I speaking with Mr. Etim Ubon (not his real name)?”
“Yes, you are…Please, who is on the line?” he asks puzzled.
“I am Bunmi Adeyinka (not her real name), a banker from Union Bank Plc. We have been trying to reach you for some time now.”
“Oh! Sorry about that…I am not used to the land line, so I don’t take calls often from there. How may I help you?” he asks perplexed.
“Okay sir, I just went through your account and realised that you have not applied for an ATM card before. You are advised to do so immediately.”
“I did apply last year ma’am, but I couldn’t get it, because there was delay by the bank, so I forgot to go back. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll go there soon to do exactly that.”
“Thanks for your cooperation sir.” She says as she hangs up the call.
The call came in on a Friday, April 26. Ubon, was unable to do it the next day, because of his tight work schedule. So, he postponed going to the bank till the next week.
The next week on a Monday, April 29, he visited the head office at Banking layout, Udo Udoma Avenue in Uyo local government area of Akwa Ibom.
He went to Customer Service and requested for Bunmi Adeyinka, with the hope that she will be the one to facilitate the ATM card release to him, only to be told that she did not work there, but works in the bank’s head office, Lagos.
Ubon told the banker that he wants to process for ATM card, and was told that the ATM machine that issues cards was faulty at the moment, and that he had to go to Union Bank Plc Main branch, 15 Abak Road in Uyo to process it. So, he left to Abak Road branch.
He was not expecting the ordeal he was to pass through just to register and get an ATM card.
When he got there, he collected the form for ATM card, filled it and waited for his turn. After waiting for more than four hours, the lady in the Customer Service finally attended to him.
She got the form from him, and clicked on her computer.
She looked up at him, with a slight sneer on her face.
“Sorry sir, your account in this bank has been dormant for a long time.”
“Okay, what do you propose I do to change that?” Mr. Ubon enquired.
She directed him to another female banker sitting two seats away from her on the same customers’ service line.
“Please go to her. She is in charge of reviving dormant accounts and opening new ones.” “NEXT!!!” She calls out to another customer
He thanked her and moved to the next lady.
“Good afternoon ma’am. I came to the bank today to apply for ATM card, only to be told that my account is dormant. Please, what can I do to change that?”
“Excuse me sir” she said in a rude tone. “You will have to wait for your turn, while I finish attending to all these people that were here before you.”
So, he took a seat, exasperation showing on his face for the stress he was going through.
After an hour of waiting, the lady called for his turn. She hands him two forms and asks him to fill them out, which he did. When he was done, she collects the form from him and says:
“I need your Driver’s licence, NEPA bill, National ID card, or your PVC to reactivate the dormant account.” The lady says to him.
“Errm…” he stutters a little, “I have just my Driver’s licence and National ID card here with me now. Will that be okay?” he enquires.
She gives him a curt nod, and stretches her palm to collect the documents from him, which she gives to another young lady, who returns with photocopies and the originals.
She took the photocopied papers, and hands over the originals to him. By this time it was almost 4p.m, close to the bank closing time.
“Your account will be revived sir. Please come back on Thursday, May 2 to process for your ATM card.”
“Thank you very much.” He says relief apparent on his face as he exits the bank.
“Now it remains just the card, and I will no longer have to pass through these bank’s troubles again” those were his thoughts.
He returned to the bank on Thursday, May 2, only to discover that the lady who was in charge of opening new accounts and reactivating dormant accounts on Monday and had attended to him and told him to come back on Thursday, was now in charge of giving out ATM cards to customers.
He walked up to her and enquired: “Good morning madam. I was here on Monday. Please, were you able to revive the dormant account?”
The woman paid no attention to him. She continued working on her system as if she did not hear him the first time.
Mr. Ubon repeated his question a little louder this time, and to his surprise, the lady ignored him still. She busily collected forms for ATM from other customers to the consternation of waiting Ubon.
Since it was apparent that she was not interested to attend to him, he moved on to the next banker, and got the same cold shoulder.
“Why are bankers this rude and cruel,” he soliloquizes.
Out of annoyance and exasperation, he went to the head of Customer Service. The ebony-complexioned man, punched his computer and asks Ubon to see another who was not on his seat. Later, the banker resurfaces and he met him, relays the instruction from his senior officer to him. “Wait!” the banker says. After a long while he returns to his desk and still asks Ubon to wait. By this time, the man was racing from one place to another.
“Why am I having these encounters with the rude female bankers? A female customer approached the banker for ATM, but was told that her account was dormant. The female banker asks the customer to bring her NEPA bill, Driver’s licence or PVC.” These thoughts ran through the mind of dejected Ubon who needed to withdraw N5,000 from his account for use in meeting pressing domestic challenges.
After waiting for over an hour, the male banker, in long-sleeve, resumed his work station.
Ubon went up to him and told him the issues he was facing.
The man told him to wait a little that he had some work to do, so that was how he waited for another 30 minutes before the man finally attended to him.
The male banker collected his information, and looked him up on the computer.
“Sir, your account is dormant,” he says.
“Are you serious?” Mr. Ubon asks in shock. “But I was here on Monday and was told to come back Thursday, that the problem will be fixed. What am I supposed to do now?”
“Did you provide them with the necessary documents to use to revive the account?” the male banker probes.
“Yes, I did. You can check for it, you’ll see it.”
Luckily for Mr. Ubon, the male banker found his Driver’s licence and National ID card attached to the two forms that were given to him on Monday.
“Mr. Ubon, you will have to come back in the next three hours. By then we will fix the problem.”
He looked at his time. It was close to 1 p.m. and the next three hours will be close to 4 p.m.
“I don’t think I will be able to make it by that time, please. There is scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) in town and the cost of transport has gone artificially. Can’t you work on it now? I don’t think it will take much of your time. I have come a long way just to do this.” He begs in a pleading tone.
“No sir, it doesn’t work that way. It takes time to process the information and other procedures. If you can’t come back today, you can come back tomorrow, Friday.”
“Okay, thank you. I hope it will be done this time.” He says as he finds his way out of the bank feeling defeated, tired, frustrated and hungry all at the same time.
“Just look at the time I spent just to get an ATM card. From bank to bank, one banker to another, with different set of attitudes, from processing card, to trying to revive a dormant account. I just wish this stress will end soon.
“It is little things like this that cause people to stop using a bank, or to have phobia of entering one.” He soliloquizes while sitting in his car, face down on the steering wheel, before putting the car in reverse gear and steering the vehicle out of the bank premises.
Friday, May 3 was another day. Ubon and his friend, Sylvanus went to the bank for the ATM. On reaching the bank, he enquired from female banker in charge of opening accounts and she told Ubon that his account had been reactivated. Yet, another waiting for ATM began.
While Ubon waited patiently, Mr. Effiom Asuquo (real name) from Atabong in Okobo local government area of the state sitting close to him poured out his heart. “I came on Monday, April 29 to get my ATM.” He narrated his horrible experience. “So, another man in my boat.” He muttered to himself and held his breath to hear a similar experience.
“On that day, a female banker on the desk told me that my account was dormant. She asked me to come back on Wednesday. Later, she recanted her words and asked me to come back on Thursday. You can imagine my distance- from Okobo to Uyo. I waited till close of work she could not finish it.
“Here I am on Friday to get ATM. I just pray that they should issue me the card. My account has been reactivated and I discovered that I have N4,000 in the account. After collecting the card, I will close my account. I will not be able to withstand these ordeals again. As I was lamenting my plight, another customer told me that he has been coming for the past two weeks without collecting his card too.
“What type of bank is this? Do they want customers to die in the queue in the process of getting ATM- something that takes First Bank Plc less than five minutes to issue the card to its customers? I am not happy at all.” Asuquo howls as he stares the eyes of Ubon.
At the end of Asuquo’s tales, the female banker in-charge of issuing ATM called Ubon. From one instruction to another, he eventually got the long-sought card. This happened after three precious hours. And he walked out of the banking hall, thanking his God. Yet, Asuquo, another victim, was still waiting for his.
The excruciating experiences of some customers in burning precious man-hours to collect their ATM card sum up the blues. While some digital banks use few minutes to issue the card, analogue Union Bank would take days to do same to some of its teeming customers in this digital age. Surprises!
Umoh, a sociologist, contributes the piece from Uyo