According to statistics from the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS), the number of active bank accounts also reduced by 1.5 million, dropping from 65 million to 63.5 million.
The statistics obtained by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) from the NIBSS website on Sunday, showed that the total number of bank customers dropped from 61 million in 2016 to 59 million in 2017.
According to NIBSS, the banking sector, however, made great strides in linking customers’ account using the Bank Verification Number (BVN).
The report showed that linked BVN accounts grew from 26 million in 2016, to 41.3 million in 2017.
According to a banking industry source, the reduction in banking customers is not unconnected to the Federal Government’s declaration to fight against corruption.
“When Buhari assumed office, many people abandoned their accounts, especially civil servants because of fear of investigation.
“While some closed down their accounts outright, others opted for gradual withdrawal so as not to raise alarm,’’ the source said.
The source, who works at one of the top five banks in the country, blamed the BVN for the low patronage of banking products, especially in the rural areas, where awareness was already very low.
A bank customer, Mr Olaitan Alagbe told NAN that she closed some of her accounts due to unnecessary and illegal charges by banks.
“First of all, the interest rate is next to nothing, so there is little reason to keep your money at the bank when you can turn it over doing other businesses,” she said.
Another customer, who preferred to remain anonymous said he opened several accounts during the Ponzi scheme boom in the country, but was forced to abandon them after the schemes crashed in late 2016 and early 2017.
However, a source at the CBN told NAN that the reduction in the number of banking customers was caused mainly by the introduction of BVN.
“The reduction may not necessarily be a bad thing. For example, many people opened accounts using different variations of their names.
“A person bearing Musa Salisu Mohammed, may have other accounts as Salisu Mohammed or Musa Salisu.
“So with the introduction of BVN, such customers were forced to regularise their names, however, some opted to close down their accounts, which resulted in the reduction of active bank accounts and customers,’’ the source said.
The CBN source was, however, optimistic that the financial inclusion strategy of the bank would succeed in bringing in more people into the formal banking system.
The Financial Inclusion strategy aims to ensure that major bulk of the money in the economy remains within the banking sector.
A major challenge in the financial inclusion process is how to ensure that the poor rural dwellers are carried along considering the lack of financial sophistication among this segment.
The CBN, Money Deposit Banks, Micro Finance Banks and other stakeholders are currently implementing different policies designed to enhance financial inclusion in the country.