Nigerian digital asset owners have reacted angrily to Union Bank’s threat to close all cryptocurrency-linked accounts. Investors have accused the local banking system of hypocrisy, asserting that banks are “unfit” and “scammers” that continue to steal from the poor through spurious charges such as ATM maintenance fees and SMS alerts.
‘Illiterate Banks Stifling Innovation’
Union Bank of Nigeria will with immediate effect begin monitoring accounts used for digital currency trading with a view to shutting these down without explanation, the bank said in notices to its customers this week. The bank claims it is acting in line with past warnings from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on virtual currency trading.
However, cryptocurrency and blockchain enthusiasts riled by the bank’s decision have taken to Twitter to express their disgust, questioning the integrity and financial literacy of the banking sector.
Adekola Seyi initiated a thread accusing Union Bank of lacking basic research abilities and faulted the country’s financial system for retrogressive tendencies. Seyi regretfully hinted that other conservative banks may soon be following suit.
Another Twitter user, Omuswe Precious, said that Nigeria’s banks are hostile to innovation while the world is fast moving ahead. He posted:
Y’all sit there lazying about while d global market cap for cryptocurrencies is already worth more than your ancient institution. Guess this sort of laziness is d reason it takes your bank over 10 working days to reverse failed transactions whn other banks are on auto-reversal.
The collective outrage follows a statement issued by the bank to its account holders warning them to desist from transacting in cryptocurrency, in which it said: “In order to guarantee the security of our customers’ funds, Union Bank will monitor accounts being used for cryptocurrency transactions and may impose restrictions including closure of such accounts.” The 100-year-old bank cited a series of cautionary statements from the CBN, which apparently do not completely prohibit virtual currency trading, to support its decision.
Precious said the move was characteristic of the hypocrisy of Nigerian banks, whom he described as the “worst scammers.” He called out banks for manipulative charges for SMS alerts, card maintenance and other unmerited fees that are poisoning public trust in the institutions.
“Come to think of it, the ATM maintenance fee that gets deducted from customers’ accounts hasn’t been labelled as scam yet! Our banking system is unfit and am sure one day banks will be a store for private keys and wallet addresses,” tweeted Awosika Ayodeji, echoing this sentiment.
Seyi broke down the operation of blockchain in simple terms to illustrate Union Bank’s supposed misreading of both the technology and the CBN directive. “Blockchain transactions are not done on your [bank’s] network … then why the cry. Why can’t you tell #Nigerians how you will block what is not happening on your system?”
Another Twitter user put the bank’s statement down to financial illiteracy on the part of the its staff. “I see we don’t go this way cos of our underpaid brothers and sisters that still work in the banks. However I dared @Unionbank_Ng to on behalf of the central bank publish their detailed report on #cryptocurrency and their research studies on #blockchain!”
In January 2017, the central bank released a circular to financial institutions asking them not to use, hold or trade virtual currencies pending “substantive regulation and or [a] decision by the CBN.” A follow-up in February 2018 reiterated the same warning, adding that “virtual currencies are not legal tender in Nigeria … we wish to caution all and sundry on the risks inherent in such activities.”
The Union Bank’s sudden decision to monitor accounts has sent panic into Nigeria’s digital asset community. Reports have started to emerge of nervous crypto investors already withdrawing their money to avoid the possibility of their accounts being frozen.
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