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Bank Charges & Recent Regulatory Guidelines

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Monday, June 12, 2017 10:00AM /  Legal Alert – June 2017 / Oserogho & Associates

Introduction
Allegations of arbitrary, unauthorised and unfair trade practices in the financial services industry continue to be a matter of much contention and acrimony. Also rife are reports of the imposition of charges that are not transparent and communicated in advance to customers. These incidents and the hedged perception of the formal financial services industry have increased the number of people who avoid this industry wherever possible.

To bring some clarity regarding the applicable banking terms, increase transparency and competition, and align the financial services charges with the current economic realities, the Central Bank of Nigeria (“CBN”) in furtherance of its powers under the CBN Act (as amended) and the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (as amended) (“BOFIA”), recently on 21 April 2017, published a Circular which serves to guide all Banks and Other Financial Institutions (“BOFI”) on the permissible parameters for imposing charges for the Services that these Institutions render to their customers.

Licenced BOFI that the above Circular applies to include Banks, Micro-finance Banks, Primary Mortgage Institutions, Finance Companies, Mobile Phone Operators, etc.

2017 CBN Guide on Financial Charges

The effective take-off date of the 2017 CBN Guide on Financial Charges is 1st May 2017. The 2017 CBN Guide on the charges approved for financial services rendered is however not exhaustive as all new products and services not covered in the Guide, require the prior written approval of the CBN, before such new charges are introduced and implemented.

Interest rates on deposits – Current Accounts, Term Deposits, Domiciliary Accounts, and Collateral Deposits – and lending rates are now mostly negotiable between the BOFI and their Customers. For Savings Accounts balances, the minimum CBN approved interest rate is 30 M.P.R (Monetary Policy Rate) per annum subject to the Customer not making more than four (4) withdrawals in each month.

For foreign exchange (“Forex”) transaction commissions and charges, regular CBN communication on the applicable rates or charges are to apply. Domiciliary Accounts withdrawals now attract a charge of 0.05% of the transaction value or $10 or whichever of the latter two is lower.

Financial Institutions are also now mandatorily required to notify their Customers, at least ten (10) working days in advance, of any changes to any pre-agreed or existing interest rate and charges. This requirement compliments the existing BOFI display of their daily interest and foreign exchange rates, at all their offices and branches.

Current Account Maintenance Fees (“CAMF”) now only apply to Customers induced debit transactions on current accounts. CAMF does not apply to Savings Account transactions. CAMF are negotiable subject to a maximum of N1 per mille.

Monthly Statements of Account are also now required to be delivered to all Customers of Financial Services, at no charge. Where a Customer however makes a special request for a bank statement, outside of the free mandatory monthly statement, the charge shall not exceed N20 (Twenty Naira) for each page of such Statement of Account.

Monthly Card Maintenance Fee for Naira Denominated Cards is N50 (Fifty Naira). N65 is charged for all ATM withdraws from third party ATMs that are not managed by the Customer’s financial institution.

CBN Consumer Protection Protocol

The CBN has a Consumer Complaints Department where complaints against licenced Financial Institutions, regulated by the CBN, can be lodged. The first line to lodging a formal written complaint against any Financial Institution is with the Financial Institution itself. Most Financial Institutions are required to have a Help Desk for the speedy resolution of all Customers’ complaints.

Where a Customer’s Complaint’s is not resolved after two (2) weeks of the lodgment of such a complaint with the Financial Institution concerned, the Customer can escalate the complaint to the CBN Consumer Protection Department for resolution.

Contractual Relationship – Customers & BOFI

The underlying basis for any Banker/Customer relationship is always contractual in nature. Where any charge or interest rate however contravenes the existing CBN Circular regulating interest rates and or charges, the Courts have consistently held that the CBN Guidelines regulating interest rates and charges shall prevail and be applied.

Where a dispute over charges or interest rates results in a litigation, the onus is always on the Customer to prove that the charge or interest rate imposed on the Customer by the Financial Institution is in contravention of the existing CBN Guideline Circular, applicable at the time the charge or interest rate was imposed. This is especially as charges and interest rates are not static.

N50 Stamp Duty Charge on Deposits
Based on a 2009 Gazette on Financial Regulations, and Circulars issued subsequently by the CBN, Financial Institutions now charge a N50 (Fifty Naira) stamp duties charge on all deposits made to current and savings accounts. This is despite a 2016 Court of Appeal decision in the matter of Standard Chartered Bank Limited v. Kasmal International Services Limited where it was held that based on the provisions of the Stamp Duties Act, there is no provision authorising the deduction and remittance of this N50 stamp duty on deposits. This appeal against the decision of the Federal High Court on the same subject was upheld.  

We do not currently have any information about a stay of execution of the above mentioned decision of the Court of Appeal; or of a further appeal to the Supreme Court.

Conclusion
Concerns over Financial Services Charges and Interest Rates, especially those charged by Banks, will remain a global problem for a long time. Customers will need to increase their financial education by ensuring that they diligently review all transaction documents, especially before executing such documents; and ask questions when in doubt from as many qualified sources as possible. Regularly reviewing monthly financial statements, emails and text messages; and contacting your Financial Institution when in doubt is a more proactive preventative measure. 

Financial Institutions must also respect and elevate the quality of the Customer Service that they provide to Customers by among other things, training their front-end employees to be more courteous and knowledgeable about the offerings or services rendered by the Financial Institutions. 

Compulsory Regulatory financial education of the members of the public, about the benefits of using Financial Institutions, needs to be a continuous exercise. Infractions and fines should be more prominently published to serve as a deterrent to the offending BOFI, and to protecting the general economy. 


Disclaimer
This is a free educational material. It does not serve as a source of solicitation, advertisement or the offering of legal services or advice of any kind. No Client/Attorney relationship is therefore created. Readers are strongly advised to always seek from qualified Legal Practitioners, competent legal counselling to their specific factual situation. 

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