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Cash-less policy: Poor network threatens to PoS usage

By on May 13, 2013

Months after the introduction of Point of Sale terminal as one of the key electronic payment channels to drive the cash-less scheme of the Central Bank of Nigeria, poor network has remained a challenge to the initiative, investigations have shown.

A PoS terminal is an electronic retail payment device that enables customers to purchase goods and services at supermarkets and other merchant locations by swiping their credit/debit cards through it.

Since the introduction of the cash-less policy in Lagos in 2011, the number of PoS terminals in the state has risen from about 5,000 to over 100,000.

As of March this year, the Head, Shared Services, CBN, Mr. Chidi Umeano, said there were currently over 150,000 PoS machines in Lagos State alone.

In spite of the continuous rise in the figure, users who spoke with our correspondent, said while there had been some improvement following reports of high PoS downtime, the problem had persisted, especially on PoS machines that used the Global System of Mobile communication operators’ Subscriber Identification Module cards.

At the GVS Supermarket in Anthony, an employee, Ms. Julia Ochai, said, “The little challenge we have is just the network problem.”

She explained that there had been times when customers attempted to use their cards with no success and, therefore, ended up paying cash only for them to get an alert indicating that their accounts had been debited.

“A lot of time, people come here and there is no network and they have to go to the bank and withdraw. Some even get frustrated and drop the items they wanted to purchase,” she added.

At another supermarket in Sulurele, the manager, who gave her name as Mrs. Onwusiribe, said her experience using the PoS channel had been bad.

Onwusiribe, who has two PoS machines that used MTN and Etisalat SIM cards, said, “It doesn’t pay. It is always declining. I don’t know if it is because of the networks we are using or because of the machines.”

She explained that repeated complaints had not yielded much improvement, adding that due to the challenges and the fact that she must pay about two per cent of the value of each transaction she made using the terminals, she preferred cash payments.

At Areamart, a shopping centre in Ikorodu, a supervisor, Ololade Oyeleye, explained that while many customers were willing to use the PoS terminal, some of them had been forced to go to the bank to get cash to purchase items due to network failure.

The story was similar at hospitals, boutiques and other retail outfits visited.

A man who did not wish to be named explained that he had rushed his son to the hospital late in the night, but had challenges because he needed to pay money around midnight but the PoS machine was faulty.

He explained that his predicament became worse as the hospital refused to accept a cheque, forcing him to go out in search of an Automatic Teller Machine from which he could withdraw the large amount of money required to attend to his son late at night.

However, at the Ikeja City Mall, it was gathered that the PoS machines being used relied on the Internet to function. Shop owners, who spoke to our correspondent, said as a result, they had less network challenges.

The Group Head, Electronic Payment Solutions, Guarantee Trust Bank Plc, Mr. Deji Oguntonade, explained that network challenges were being tackled with new innovations.

He said users of the PoS terminals at places like the Ikeja City Mall had less network challenges because “they are on an Internet solution and not SIM card solution. Anywhere there are clusters, we deploy Internet connectivity or better data bandwidth, but it would only be economical where there is a cluster of people.”

He said, “We have new innovations like roaming SIMs. That is a SIM card that can access all the four or five networks. If one network is bad, it automatically changes to another network. We also have the CDMA network, which is much more stable than the GSM or GPRS network.

“So, what we do is that we virtually combine all these methods to ensure that whatever location we have our PoS, it is working.”

Oguntonade said the CDMA terminals had been around since the beginning of the year and more of them were being introduced into the market.

“The roaming SIMs were introduced recently, let’s say late March. And most of us are still testing them; we have not fully deployed them yet,” he added.

He expressed optimism that with the new solutions, overtime, there would be significant improvement and more solutions, which would address the concerns of users of the PoS terminals.

The Executive Director, Business Development, Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System, Mrs. Christabel Onyejekwe, admitted that network challenges were the major complaints that had been made concerning the usage of the PoS terminals.

She, however, stressed that the challenges were limited to the PoS terminals that use SIM card solution.

She gave an assurance that NIBSS was working with the telecommunication companies to ensure that they improved their networks, adding that already, the telcos were signing different network upgrade deals to enable them rectify the problem.

“We are going back to them, we are talking with the telcos. In fact, as we speak, we are doing door-to-door visits to all the malls and PoS merchants; we are talking to them one-on-one to be able to discuss with them again the nature of their problems and provide solutions to them,” Onyejekwe said.

Apart from the telecoms service providers, Onyejekwe, said NIBSS was also holding talks with the developers of the devices about how they could improve on them.

She explained that the idea was to provide the developers such as Verifone feedback on the experiences people had while using the devices “so that they can give us the best devices.”

Despite the challenges, Onyejekwe observed that people were increasingly embracing the use of PoS terminals.

She said, “A lot of Nigerians are more willing to bring their cards to use. You will be surprised to know that in Lekki, people still prefer to bring cash, but in Ikeja, they prefer cards. You will find that in most locations, people freely bring cards, knowing that it is not like before when many outlets didn’t have PoS machines or they (customers) won’t have a good experience.

“The failures in transactions are reducing. Challenges are there, but we are improving every day because we are out there in the market with them (users) and we are working closely with everybody.”