by Solomon Osadolo
The CBN announced last week that it had set plans in motion to incorporate biometric identification into Nigeria’s financial transaction experience by February 14, 2014. A deal has already been struck with German firm, Demalog, to set up a payment system that’ll be driven by fingerprints. This is all in a bid to make the banking experience easier and safer for current avid users and, more importantly, encourage those who are illiterate to participate in the banking experience.
Without any doubt, biometric technology is up there among the coolest protocols for validating user identification as it reduces the number of steps to the barest minimum and guarantees a secure transaction process. There’s only one problem though: crimes to break the system are usually the most violent. In a society bedeviled with insecurity (as regards problems of kidnappings and the likes) the concept of a financial system run on biometrics has to be given a lot of thought before implementation so we don’t fall victim to the irony lurking in the system.
Kidnappings have become a very real threat in many parts of the country in the last few years. In fact, it’s been so rife in Edo state lately that the state governor has had to sign the death penalty into law against any offender that is tried and convicted of the crime. Fingerprint transactions would change the game drastically for kidnappers and their victims. I need not outline the horrific events that may ensue in the wake of its implementation. Even without the technology running, there have been cases of violent measures taken by kidnappers to ensure a ransom is paid. One should imagine that the frequency would increase after its implementation.
It can be argued that the attention drawn to this threat is a tad over the top considering the obvious advantages involved with biometric technology (especially when you consider the success stories in some other climes), but it is a valid threat, no less, considering the present realities that abound here.
Since the Soludo era, the CBN has consistently seen a flurry of revolutionary policies that have helped to stamp its presence into the consciousness of more Nigerians. From the famed capitalization program (which was the hallmark of Dr. Soludo’s tenure) to the cashless policy initiated by Sanusi, among other policies, it’s almost as if the CBN awoke from long slumber and immediately went into overdrive. One can’t fault the argument that these policies have had a positive impact and made for a more robust banking industry. But we have to ensure that some policies are not implemented because of their coolness alone, or because they are a statement, in large respects, to feasibility/capability. Far reaching impacts have to be weighed in terms of how it affects the user experience beyond the transaction point to how it impacts on the Nigerian condition.
Another issue that has to be considered is the fact that the pace at which the various policies are implemented may be too much for the average user to grapple with. ATMs are still a bother for a lot of people and internet banking is akin to rocket science to more yet. I think more efforts should be made to improve the ease of use of the various policies available currently. As for biometric/fingerprint transactions, considering the challenge outlined a few paragraphs ago, it doesn’t quite seem like a necessary goal… for now.