Erratic ATMs: Banks draw swords on Simtel

With Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) becoming more erratic and queues in banking halls ever growing, commercial banks want the electronic payment system liberalised.

With Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) becoming more erratic and queues in banking halls ever growing, commercial banks want the electronic payment system liberalised.

Liberalisation of the payment system will mean that commercial banks would be empowered to provide and manage their own ATMs.
If the banks are licenced, then the monopoly the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) gave Simtel to run the national payment system switch will end.

Rogers Munyampenda, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), of Simtel says the machines are functional. He blames banks for taking long to replenish the machines with cash and also updating their clients’ accounts.

On several occasions some clients have failed to withdraw money using their ATM cards.

The machines give responses indicating that the transaction is not honoured partly because of insufficient funds on the clients’ accounts. And at times out rightly rejecting ATM cards describing them as not usable.

To Munyapenda, that is business.
“When the machine gives a response saying you have inadequate funds, we count it as a complete transaction,” Munyampenda said.

But Hannigton Namara, the head of Corporate Banking in Commercial Bank of Rwanda (BCR) suggest that to stop apportioning blame, the central bank should relax the regulation to allow commercial banks operate their own ATMs as Simtel ‘sorts out itself’.

“We have wanted this (ATMs) for many years. Our interest is the customers we serve.” said Namara.

He added that commercial banks have the capacity and resources to run ATMs.

“If you can open up branches, what about the ATM? The cost of opening up one branch can cater for about 15 machines,” he said.
Safari of Banque de Kigali said, “For banks which have capacity, it is okay to have their ATMs because they (banks) are looking at their profitability and competitiveness.” 

But Francoise Kanimba, BNR governor will not buy the idea of banks running their own ATMs. He said that some banks are just focusing on their own interests other than the national interest.

“When you liberalise, its fine, there will be competitiveness, but I don’t think it will add value to the payment system,” he said.

Adding that this could help banks to come up with many things but won’t integrate the system the way Simtel is doing it.
“Echobank has requested to provide its own network. It is also pushing for the same in Ghana,” the governor said.

Ecobank has already imported several ATM machines ready to install them countrywide but BNR has refused to licence the bank to the chagrin of some bank official who say BNR is protecting Simtel that is crippling the development of the financial sector.

How Simtel was created
Rwanda’s electronic payment system was introduced in 2004. Simtel was selected as the sole company to help Rwandans access their money via a network of Simtel supported ATMs.

This national switch was set up under the stewardship of the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) particularly to ensure that all banks and microfinance institutions can facilitate electronic payments.

But since the introduction of ATMs in Rwanda, various challenges, both operational and policy have coldly slowed the rollout of the system in the country with cardholders saying, the machines are even very unreliable.

Currently any ATM cardholder is free to withdraw money from any machine regardless of the location and the bank. But this may cease if banks are allowed to own the machines.

Kanimba however said that there is an agreement that after Simtel has established itself in the country, banks could be allowed to manage and own their payment system. But he did not specify the time period in which it will be implemented.

“Simtel is targeting to become a regional switch,” he said. 

Customers speak out
“ATMs don’t provide guarantee to access one’s account as and when he needs to,” said Dan Kalisa, a client with Fina Bank.

He said that sometimes there is a network breakdown which makes it difficult for the machines to operate efficiently, but it is difficult for the clients to blame commercial banks either Simtel.

This has left many bank clients wondering whether it is Simtel or banks that should bear the blame for the breakdown of the machines during the transaction.

“What we want is a very efficient and risk free service. We don’t know if it is the bank to provide this or Simtel,” said James Gasangwa a resident of Kimironko.

Mending fences
Simtel and commercial banks have been at loggerheads over the operation of the ATMs in the country. Recently they agreed to sign a service level agreement which will formally define what the two parties are to do.

The ATMs available in the country are few and not well distributed which hinders their ease of access.

“Our nature of business is volume driven because and our services depend on the information we get from the banks,” Munyampenda said.  He added that: “Simtel is acting as a third party processor…..our clients are the banks,”

He is even more concerned about the lack of information to the clients which he believes is the cause of long queues in banking terminals due to the growing demand of bank services.

He said banks are supposed to educate the public about the operation of the ATMs.

Of the 15,000 ATM cardholders in the country, Munyampenda said that only a third of them are active users.

Statistics from Simtel show that the number of clients using the ATM cards has increased from 21,099 people in September last year to 33,722 in August this year.

In terms of volumes transacted, Simtel registered Frw498.3 million in September last year compared to Frw846.6 million in August—which is Frw5 million lower than it was in July this year.

This also comes at a time Simtel is set to help Rwandans use the national Identity card at the point of sale which will help to increase the number of electronic transaction in the country.