On April 29, Mayowa, 32, was distraught when he couldn’t pay for a 19km Uber ride he had taken to visit a friend in Park View Estate, a well known residential community in the highbrow area of Ikoyi, Lagos. His orange branded Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) app had not launched as he tried severally to make a transfer from his current account to the empty savings account linked to the debit card on his Uber app.
Thinking his MTN data service was the problem, he tried punching his bank’s *737# short code to make the transfer but he got an unresponsive code message.
He tried again, and again and again without success. Frustrated, he made a last attempt accessing his account through GTB’s mobile website, but it took forever to load. To make matters worse, Mayowa’s buddy was away from home, at a dragging management meeting and wouldn’t pick up his frantic calls.
“Ten minutes had passed by now. The Uber driver was looking at me funny. It was embarrassing. I had to plead with him to have some patience,” a laughing Mayowa shared.
Out of Service
Mayowa is one of many GTB customers who suffered embarrassment, inconvenience or loss of opportunity, as downtimes on the bank’s USSD or mobile banking services became frequent in the first half of 2021, sometimes stretching days on end.
@gtbank why is your bank frustrating customers? I have not been able to access my GT Mobile App for days now. And when money is sent to my account I don't receive alert be it SMS or Email alert.
I recharged 1k few days ago I was debited, but my phone wasn't credited.
— Precious Oye (@BarrypOye) April 30, 2021
What is going on @gtbank_help. I am fed up with you guys @gtbank. Everything is stressful.
Why have I been experiencing this all evening 😩? Now it's CT11, no more E150.
I am starting to tire of your channels pic.twitter.com/cmLjiiaiEL
— Dr. Ameena (@amkmusty) March 22, 2021
An employee explained that the E105 and CT11 error codes pop up when a partner firm Clickatell’s server is down or GTB’s API is unreachable to initiate the transaction
Buying airtime on @gtbank app is just pure scam, they would deduct the money n not deliver the airtime and I’m just tired of complaining.
— Abbie 🐾 (@Abigailsluvv) June 16, 2021
How can GTB be silent at a time like this? I know they can see the complaints. Do traditional Nigerian banks no longer care about proving quality customer support & help? Tomorrow, they will still charge us a silly ‘convenience’ fee 🤢
— Koromone Koroye (@Koromone_K) April 29, 2021
A comparative analysis conducted by TC Insights, of customer complaints on Twitter about the mobile app and USSD services between the first half of 2020 and 2021, showed a 54% spike.
A customer representative with the company explained under anonymity that most of the complaints this year have been about the USSD platform, mobile application, unexplainable SMS charges and lately, One Time Password (OTP) issues.
“These are the recurring problems and complaints. Just ask any GTB customer. They will share some bitter experiences,” she said.
Seven years ago, Guaranty Trust Bank, Nigeria’s third-largest lender, pioneered mobile banking with its *737# USSD service in Nigeria, introducing a new level of ease to customers.
Today, other banks have adopted it and an estimated 40 million Nigerians use USSD services for mobile banking. According to the GTB’s financial report, its revenue from USSD fees was ₦2.13 billion ($5.3m) in 2019, a significant 34% increase from the ₦1.58 billion ($3.9m) made in 2018.
GTB didn’t reveal its USSD revenue for 2020 but it disclosed that the total amount it processed via USSD was ₦3.89 trillion, a 9.4% increase from the ₦3.55 trillion processed in 2019. Its mobile app also has over a million downloads on the Google play store alone.
Staff churn and delayed promotions
TechCabal has learnt, from interviews with 19 former and current employees of the bank’s IT division, that the division has suffered a spike in attrition within the last six months. It has resulted in technical gaps and work overload for current employees.
According to these sources, the absence of promotions in 2020 for already overworked employees who felt they were deserving triggered the first wave of exits into the labour market which had attractive offers for their talent. The shortage in talent began compounding into increased workload and mounting pressure for remaining IT employees.
At least ten team members resigned this year from the application development team, a unit which often consists of 20 members, according to a former software developer with the bank .
“I was handling one application then it doubled as a result,” Stanley* said.
“There’s a particular team where three members left in the space of one month. Now, four people’s responsibilities are being juggled by one person,” another employee, at the time of the interview in May, shared.
“The pressure is crazy. One person is doing three people’s jobs all in the name of efficiency. That’s why our cost to income ratio will always be the lowest in the industry,” Michael*, an ex-employee exclaimed.
GTB’s operating expense increased by ₦16.5bn from its 2019 figure (₦131bn) due to additional investment in technology to enable staff to work from home and costs associated with implementing safety procedures as well as COVID 19 protocols.
The frequent loss of experienced talents without a commensurate hiring rate resulted in gaps in technical capabilities, a source explained.
He said: “The application I am managing was handled by two people, but my partner has gone to join another team. If I’m leaving now, a new person can’t cram and get a good grip of everything in my handover note within 3 weeks. We simply need more people on the team!”
This gap is often reflected when there is a service downtime towards the end of the month caused by server overload. During this period, transaction volume increases due to salary payments and other month-end payments, leading to more pressure on existing resources.
According to sources, towards the end of the month, experienced hands would usually be proactive in tracking certain metrics and moving different applications across servers to ensure there’s space for the surge. But in the absence of such hands, performance management and quality control suffer.
TechCabal contacted Guaranty Trust Bank for comments but had not got a response at the time of publishing this article.
It’s not enough
The bank appears to have taken some steps to solve at least part of the problem that have caused recurring transaction problems this year.
On June 2nd, 2021 about 900 staff of GTB received a long overdue announcement: they had been promoted. It offered some consolation to many who had been expecting for a while.
However, a software developer who was promoted made it clear that this promotion won’t serve as a solution.
“We’re still understaffed. The App development team is almost half of what it was at the beginning of the year. They haven’t replaced people. Some people even got promoted but left because they don’t want the stress again,” he said.
Adamu*, a mid-level associate disclosed that complaints have been made to line managers who encouraged the units and explained that recruitments are ongoing for entry-level and experienced hands who will begin resuming from July.
“So… let’s wait and see”, he said.
*Name changed to protect their identity.
$1 = ₦ 400