To acquire an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card currently, takes a minimum of 3-4 months sometimes stretching to 6 months generally.
And for the few people who have them, due to limited supply of ATMS around the country, they often forced to queue in the banking halls.
At present there about 30 ATMs around the country operated by SIMTEL the national switch for inter-bank ATM services.
The other issue is that most ATMs either run out of money during the weekend, when most people want to spend their money, or the machines have no Internet connection.
Apart from that most ATMs do not accept foreign VISA cards and as such people have to always end up in the banking hall most of the time even for basic cash transactions like withdrawing and checking account balances.
The above issues have made the usage of ATM cards in this country not only almost impossible but also very unpopular. Statistics from SIMTEL indicate that about only 12,000 people in Rwanda have ATM cards.
Yet the other option (queuing in the banking hall) is not also a better option. Carrying out cash transactions inside the banking hall as not as easy as you may think.
Not only is the process time consuming but also there are many steps involved. For instance, to withdraw cash one has to first fill in a form, then wait in the line for at least 20 minutes to get to the teller to give you your money.
However the good news is that recently some local commercial banks specifically Bank of Kigali and EcoBank acquired principle rights from VISA International. These banks will begin issuing ATM VISA cards locally to their customers.
Access Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank will use their parent companies to issue the VISA ATM cards.
The other banks on the market will have to negotiate with the two principle banks to be able to extend VISA services to their customers. The process is expected to reduce current delays in issuance of ATM cards from between 3- 6 months to one day.
The target for these banks should be not only to increase ATM cards in circulation but also have as many ATMs as possible spread out across the country. This will make it convenient for people to use ATM cards and reduce the unnecessary queues in banks.
Banks too benefit as they save on operation cost by reducing the number of visitors to their premises. It will also facilitate banks to raise reasonable income from card business, something that has held back most banks from issuing ATM cards. Most banks have complained about the extremely high charges by SIMTEL.
For banks, which are principle members of VISA International, having more ATM cards in circulation makes economic sense for banks as they are able to meet VISA International quarterly charges of about $30,000.
For customers, with ATM card, one can save time and avoid traveling all the way to the bank premises to withdraw cash, find account balance and even carry large amount of cash which is risky.
Conversely, SIMTEL also has to step up its operations as the sole operator of Rwanda Switch which is the inter bank processor. There is a general outcry among commercial banks about quality of services provided by the national switch provider.
Berna Namata is a journalist with The New Times