SIMTEL speaks out on poor ATM facilities

According to information gathered by Business Times, to acquire an ATM card generally takes a minimum of 3-4 months sometimes stretching to 6 months SIMTEL, the sole operator of the Rwandan switch for inter-bank (Automatic Teller Machine) ATM services, has said that, it should not be blamed for the poor services in the country.

According to information gathered by Business Times, to acquire an ATM card generally takes a minimum of 3-4 months sometimes stretching to 6 months

SIMTEL, the sole operator of the Rwandan switch for inter-bank (Automatic Teller Machine) ATM services, has said that, it should not be blamed for the poor services in the country.

Responding to the complaints raised about the inefficient services offered by teller machines, Sigrid Bruch, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) SIMTEL, noted that her institution is not entirely to blame for the poor ATM facility as there are other stakeholders such as banking institutions and Rwandatel involved in providing the service. 

“We have availability of 90 percent of ATM because we monitor the machines on a 24 hour basis.  But we do have issues with the quality of notes. When the quality of notes is not good, the notes mix up and the money is locked,” she said, citing one of the causes of machine breakdown.

In an exclusive interview with Business Times, the official also observed that during the weekends, most ATM machines run out of money though this is not part of their service.

“Issues concerning money are the responsibility of the banks.  The way the system operates whether money is available or not does not come from SIMTEL! What is displayed on the ATM is from the Bank because the transactions are communicated to the bank.

SIMTEL verifies the card, the transaction is sent to the bank to also verify the transaction,” she explained. According to information gathered by Business Times, to acquire an ATM card generally takes a minimum of 3-4 months sometimes stretching to 6 months.

For instance, Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) is still waiting to get a connection even after entering the Rwandan market late last year.

“The issue of ATM is a very painful experience for the banking industry. We have been waiting to get a connection from the service provider for almost 6 months,” the Head of Business at KCB, Gloria Nyambok told Business Times in an interview recently.

“This is restricting our business from growing the way we want it to be. It is also affecting customer service because coming to a banking hall is not convenient for all our customers,” she added.

She also noted that while her bank is capable of operating its own switch like they have done in other countries, they have no problem complying with the system in place.

“However the problem is that the process is taking too long,” she said, noting that the bank would like to have ATM machines on every branch.

“Generally speaking the service providers of ATM facilities are offering a raw deal for the banking industry. And this is affecting growth of the industry,” another source who preferred to remain anonymous said.

According to FINA bank, they have about 300 customers who applied for the cards and   have been waiting for 3 months while the bank has only 600 ATM cards in circulation. 

“The problem we have currently concerns supply of the ATM cards. Our clients have to wait between 3 -4 months,” said FINA Bank’s card manager Jean Paul Muramila.

And according to Vivian Kayitesi, the Head of Marketing at BCR, their customers also have to wait for at least a minimum of 3 months after applying for the ATM card.

The bankers however noted that SIMTEL has promised to have the banks print the ATMs locally. However, Bruch admitted that SIMTEL has challenges with delivery of ATM cards as the cards are currently printed in South Africa.

Apparently the Johannesburg based company NAMLTECH that has been supplying ATM cards has proven to be inefficient as it prefers handling huge orders from African countries much bigger than Rwanda.

“Rwanda in its entirety does not raise the volume to attract immediate attention, because this company serves the biggest banks in Africa. The volume is too small,” she said.

To address this, SIMTEL is now working with the Central Bank to have the ATM cards personalised locally though the time frame is not yet known when the process will begin.

“This will address the problem of delays as it will take about 2-3 working days to get an ATM card,” she added. A user who preferred to be identified as Moses and banking with BCR also expressed his disappointment.

“I have been frustrated so many times   when I try to use my ATM card. Either there is no money and if not the card is “swallowed” or the machine tells you that your account does not have money, or it just apologies that it is not in function,” he said. He went to say, not only had it taken him 4 months  to get the card ,but after acquiring it all sorts of issues cropped up.

Moses’ story is a story shared by many Rwandans, as it has been observed that generally ATM services are poor in the county and out of service.  

Bruch underscored that part of the problems results from the fact that the use of the ATM facility is still fairly new in the country. She mentioned that a good number of card holders lack the basic skills and knowledge to operate the ATM machine.

“There is still need for education on how to use the machines,” she said.

According to Bruch, ATM cards are rejected for a number of reasons though the cards are largely rejected if a wrong PIN number is entered or if the account does not have sufficient funds.

“It is only on rare occasions that card is rejected due to problems associated with the network,” she said. 

The CEO also said concerns over the unstable network should be directed to Rwandatel, as the service provider of the connection that runs the ATM machines.

“We are just as frustrated as the banks. If Rwandatel is unable to provide the connection, it is beyond our control,” she said, responding to a query as to why it had taken her institution so long to connect some banks with the ATM facility.
Rwandatel is the current service provider the connection that allows ATM machines to operate. Reacting to the concerns raised, Rwandatel‘s Publicist, Cleophus Kabasita , defended her  company saying that towards the end of last year , the telecom company had to upgrade their capacity to meet the increasing demand for their network.

“This affected our operations as we had to upgrade all our existing customers. We serve over 90 percent of the business community,” she said.

According to SIMTEL, there are only 27 ATM Machines in circulation. SIMTEL is also in charge of the national electronic payment transactions, and operates credit card switch and cash systems in the country.

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