According to the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS), the volume of online transactions grew by 70% in February compared to January, a record month due to the botched cash redesign policy. This increase in transactions left most commercial banks struggling to keep up with the demand for electronic banking services.
Adeoti Salami, a GTBank customer, told TechCabal that during the cash crisis, which lasted almost four months, he could not access his money and that banks were too congested. “GTBank suffered several downtimes where I couldn’t log in. One time, it was almost the entire day.” An Access Bank customer, Martin Achimugu, told TechCabal, “For most of February and March, every time someone sent money to my account, I would not receive it until the next day or maybe two days later”.
While commercial banks struggled during the cash crisis, some fintech startups grew tremendously. Bashir Yusuf, the Director of Partnerships for OPay, told TechCabal that OPay added over 10 million wallets in the first quarter of the year. “We started the year with 19 million wallet account holders, and at the last count we had 30 million wallet holders.” Considering how much commercial banks spent on technology in the first half of last year—$178,268,979—, it remains curious why they could not provide reliable services during the cash crisis.
Why are banks not moving to the cloud?
OPay attributes its growth and reliability during the cash crisis to its cloud-based infrastructure. According to Dotun Adekunle, the former CTO and vice president of OPay, the fintech’s infrastructure is hosted fully in the cloud. This is unlike most traditional banks that use a hybrid structure, which is a mix of on-premises servers (hardware infrastructure physically hosted) and on-cloud servers (like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure).
TechCabal spoke to two cloud engineers with experience working with Nigerian banks. They requested to be anonymous to avoid being identified for sharing confidential information. One of them told this publication, “One of the reasons most commercial banks had downtimes during the cash crisis was because of the load on their infrastructure, and that’s where the cloud comes in. With the cloud, you can auto-scale. Auto-scaling increases the number of resources you have and helps accommodate an increase in demand. You can also reduce the resources you have if you don’t need them anymore,” he added.
The cloud engineer also shared that the database of one of his company’s customers (a commercial bank) was constantly crashing because it could not handle the increase in transactions. According to the engineer, most commercial banks in Nigeria use a mixture of on-premises servers and cloud servers. “A lot of banks in Nigeria have not been able to move all their data to the cloud because a lot of the infrastructure was set up on-premises [in-house physical servers], so moving everything to the cloud may take time. They usually host their core banking services, which have the data of all their users and accounts, on-premises and prefer to host their mobile banking on the cloud”, he said.
A cloud engineer at a commercial bank told Techcabal that most banks have also not moved totally to the cloud because the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has not “given the go-ahead” for banks to move all their services to the cloud. The CBN’s Information Technology Standards Blueprint was released in 2014, around the same time cloud computing became mainstream. She also shared that banks can scale up their on-premises server, but it’s more expensive and stressful than auto-scaling a cloud server.
Concerns about the cloud
An excerpt from CBN’s guideline on cloud computing reads: “A gradual implementation approach is suggested for successful transition to cloud. This follows a slow migration process that steadily increases the number of processes or functions being hosted by the cloud. This migration approach is dependent on the ability for an objective assessment of the readiness of each individual service, and the components thereof, to be migrated to the cloud. The risk of moving highly confidential banking to the public cloud can be enormous if not properly controlled.”
According to the commercial bank’s engineer, a concern for most banks is network latency (the time it takes to transfer data across the network) issues that might come with cloud-based services. “Amazon Web Services, for instance, has a data centre in South Africa, but the data centre in the west of the UK actually has better latency for Nigeria than the one in South Africa. Fast response times matter to customers, so latency is important for banks. It will help if we have data centres in Nigeria”.
Data centres have been springing up around the continent. In January, Amazon launched Local Zones in Lagos. According to Robin Njiru, AWS’s regional public sector lead for West, East, and Central Africa, the launch will help businesses deploy latency-sensitive workloads and meet local data residency requirements.