The Digitalization of Banking System in Ethiopia and the Experience with ATMs

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Last week, I was in the Jacros neighborhood near the Mexican Embassy residence for lunch with my two colleagues. It was Friday, a day of fasting and we all decided to eat vegan for lunch. We went to Taitu Shiro Bet where we had Beyeayenetu and Shiro wot with white and brown injera. The food, mainly the Shiro wot, was tasty and freshly prepared.
While going to the restaurant, I realized that I had no cash on me. Fortunately, I had my bank card in my wallet. I took my Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM found on the way to the restaurant. The only ATM available was that of the NIB International Bank. I’ve been using my debit card with CBE for over 5 years and never had any problem withdrawing money from ATMs.
It is indeed easier and faster to use a bank card and an ATM of the same bank. Let’s say that if you hold a bank card such as Visa, Mastercard or a simple debit card from a bank such as Dashen Bank, Abyssinia Bank, Abay Bank, Enat Bank, Zemen Bank, etc., it becomes easier and more efficient to make transactions using an ATM of the same bank. Otherwise, using a bank card in a different bank ATM, such as using Wegagen bank’s bank card in Hibret Bank ATM, may not always be efficient and fast like using it in its Wegagen Bank’s own ATM.
As I couldn’t find any ATM from my bank, CBE Bank, I had to use the only ATM available on the way to the restaurant, which was with the NIB International Bank. I walked into the ATM and inserted my debit card with CBE. The process was very slow compared to using other ATMs. I guess it was probably because my bank card was not from the same bank as the ATM. However, I have had the experience of using my CBE bank card with ATMs of other banks and the result has always been positive.
I inserted my CBE debit card into the ATM and waited an unusual amount of time before choosing the language of service. Once I added the service language, I waited for a few seconds to enter my PIN. The process was quite simple and efficient up to this point. However, it got complicated and unpleasant afterwards. Once I added my PIN and chose the service I wanted to use, I waited for a while before the ATM asked me to select the amount I wanted to withdraw. I needed around 1,000 ETB where I made my selection of the amount to be debited from my account. The ATM copied my request well, but it was a problem getting the money. After selecting the amount I needed to withdraw that day, I received a message on the ATM to wait a while. The message literally says, “Please wait a moment….”. I didn’t expect the wait time would be that long, but I waited patiently to get my money. After waiting for 3 minutes I started freaking out and knew something went wrong. I asked the security guards if the ATM was working properly. They replied that it was working all well, and I had to wait for the service. I remained silent and waited for even more minutes. There was still nothing and the only message I could read on the ATM was to wait a moment: “In process…. Please wait a moment….”. My two colleagues were heading to lunch, and I was behind. I needed to get my money fast and join them, but no luck. I couldn’t get the money. I waited for almost 8 minutes and still there was nothing except the message alerting to wait. I didn’t have time to wait again. Since I didn’t receive my money after waiting for 10 minutes, I decided to cancel the transaction and hit the red cancel button. I waited for another three minutes before pulling my bank card out of the ATM. Anyway, I wasn’t quite sure if the transaction was really cancelled, and I waited for more extra minutes in case I got the money. However, nothing came out of the ATM, and I must have given up hope. I waited almost for 15 minutes for a simple bank transaction which did not go through. Although I cancelled the transaction, I received a message on my mobile phone saying that 1,000 ETB had been debited from my account. It was my very first experience and I was amazed at the burden.
The banking system has developed well in Ethiopia with electronic financial transactions. Card-less banking services using mobile banking has progressed well in Addis Ababa as well as in the Regions. Hello Cash, Tele Birr, etc. are some of the good examples with the digitalization of the banking system in Ethiopia. Additionally, Eth Switch helps Financial Service Providers (FSPs) to serve their customers with convenience, including ATMs, POS, mobile banking, or Internet among other services.
The next day I went to one of the CBE Bank branches where I told the manager about my experience. The branch manager advised me to dial 951 to explain the incident for possible resolution. I then dialed the number where I had reported the incident. The agent who handled my case asked me a few questions about the incident, my banking information, etc. and informed me to wait for 8-10 days to get back the amount deducted from my account to which the ATM did not deliver the money. The incident reporting process was very quick compared to the long minutes I had to wait while trying to withdraw cash from the ATM. The agent who handled my case over the phone explained to me that Eth Switch, which is an intermediary financial service provider for all transactions made between all banks in Ethiopia, would communicate with both the CBE and the NIB International Banks and come up with a solution.
At a time when the banking system is evolving and digitalization of baking services is becoming common in Ethiopia, the difficult experience I had for just a simple fast cash withdrawal was unacceptable. The banking system in Ethiopia has made a big revolution with electronic banking services that were common in neighboring countries like Kenya in the past. If special attention was given to the challenges that customers face when withdrawing cash from ATMs, the banking system and services would make great progress and success in Ethiopia. If more attention was paid to the financial system and technology, Ethiopia could be considered as one of the leading countries in the Horn of Africa when it comes to mobile and electronic banking (e-banking).

The writer can be reached via tgstsolomon@gmail.com