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National Switch facing resistance

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Some disgruntled Automated Teller Machine (ATM) users claim they are being forced to boycott the National Switch service, otherwise known as Natswitch, after suffering inconveniences when drawing cash from ATMs of other banks.

Government through the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) initiated the establishment of Natswitch with funding from the World Bank under the Financial Sector Technical Assistance Project to accelerate Malawi Government’s financial inclusion strategy which seeks to have at least 40 percent of the population having access to financial services.

In addition to ATM transactions, Natswitch also incorporates Point Of Sale transactions, mobile-banking, electronic-banking transactions, Visa and MasterCard Gateway as well as over-the-counter transactions.

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Bu t ATM users seem unsatisfied with Natswitch operations with some recounting bad experiences after their accounts were debited whilst no cash was disbursed in the process of making an encashment from another bank’s ATM.

Others also site delays to reverse transactions when such things happen as a major inconvenience.

“Most ATMs are often out of service and when you use

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an ATM of another bank via the Natswitch service, sometimes the ATM will not disburse funds and give you an error that transaction failed, by the time your bank’s ATMs start working and you go and check your balance, you find that your account has been debited and the service has no automatic reconciliation or reversal,” one observer said.

Both the regulator of financial institutions, RBM and Bankers Association of Malawi (Bam) have confirmed being aware of the technical problems facing customers using ATMs of members of Natswitch.

RBM Publicist, Mbane Ngwira, said currently, all stakeholders, including officials from RBM, are in discussions to find solutions to the problems.

In view of complaints over the different charges banks are using for people to access Natswitch, Ngwira said banks have different cost structures, making it difficult to harmonise charges across banks.

Bam President, Lyness Nkungula, attributed the problems consumers are encountering when trying to access the Natswitch to ATMs running out of cash, network or power failures and mechanical snags.

Nkungula said Bam has put in place a dispute operation manual with guidelines to ensure that all disputes arising from the use of ATMs should be resolved within 72 hours of receiving the complaint.

“I acknowledge that banks serve customers with different backgrounds, needs, and orientations. As such, their levels of expectations also differ and we cannot rule out any possibility of receiving complaints.

“Never theless we treat customers’ complaints with absolute urgency because we believe these complaints help us improve our service delivery,” she said in an emailed response.

Earlier in April, RBM confirmed all ATM machines of all but one bank had been interconnected as at February 9, 2016.

But consumer rights activist, John Kapito, raised concern that the banking sector could be defeating the whole purpose of setting up Natswitch following the high charges some banks are imposing on their customers to access other bank’s ATMs.

Kapito said Natswitch was set up to accelerate the financial inclusion strategy but that what was happening on the ground was a departure from the initial goal.

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