From all indications, it appears the Bank Verification Number (BVN) exercise that was started in February 2014 is yet to deliver on its promise of an industry-wide accepted unique identity for customers of Nigerian banks.
It shouldn’t just be another registration exercise that won’t live up to its potential, like the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), which is yet to have a unified database after eleven years of its establishment.
Earlier in the year, I used Leo -- UBA’s social media banker -- to create a bank account. The requirements to create the account include BVN, date of birth, contact details as well as a passport photograph.
After some months, I got a notification that I needed to visit a physical branch of the bank with a recent utility bill, a regulatory identity (ID) card and a passport photograph to regularise my account, which I did. And just recently, I tried to make a withdrawal from my account. The teller told me that there was 'no mandate' on my account.
On stopping by at the customer service desk, I was informed that I needed to bring a utility bill, a regulatory ID and a passport photograph again.
Eventually, I did submit what was requested, for the second time because, without it, withdrawal or transfer cannot be done on the account. What happened to the documents I submitted initially? The bank couldn’t provide an answer.
With regards to documentation for a new account, other banks require the same thing. To open a new bank account, you will be required to bring a utility bill, ID card and passport photograph. And all these question the BVN exercise which is supposed to be a unified database for the Nigerian banking industry.
Apparently, the only purpose that the BVN exercise is fulfilling at the moment is the allocation of a unique number to people in the formal banking system. By the way, there’s a document that was printed at UBA which was exactly what was printed the last time I last requested for an internet banking password reset from the bank I did my BVN registration with. The picture on the document was the exact same picture that was taken during the BVN registration.
This means any bank can access the details associated with a BVN. Since one must have met all necessary Know Your Customer requirements to have one, anyone should be able to walk into a bank to create a new account and the BVN will suffice for verification of one’s identity.
But as it is, this is not the case as you still need to replicate documentation.
One of the objectives of the BVN exercise, as listed on the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) website, is to use biometric information as a means of identification and verification of all individuals with a Nigerian bank account.
Ade (not real name), an ex-banker who worked on the BVN project at the initial stage, claims that the exercise was designed to basically allocate a unique identity to every bank account holder in the country.
As it is, there was no consideration for every of the use cases, like using the number as the only requirement to open a new account. Ade believes that a bank customer should be able to initiate a remote identity validation with the BVN despite the fact that this wasn’t factored in from the onset.
One should be able to open a new full-fledged bank account from the comfort of one's home or office through the bank’s mobile app. One would just input the BVN, take a selfie which would be matched against details on the BVN database. However, it appears BVN is not living to its full potential at the moment.
The BVN is supposed to revolutionise how Nigerians access the banking system but it appears it’s just for formalities; you provide your BVN and the banks still ask for some other information that is already associated with the number. Which begs the question of what NIBSS is doing with the data it’s sitting on. How soon will BVN attain its full potential of easing banking activities for Nigerians?