Weighed down by acute dollar shortages many Nigerian banks had in September last year stopped their customers from using naira-denominated ATM cards for credit and debit transactions outside Nigeria, unless such cards were linked to dollar accounts funded locally.They also previously pegged monthly transactions on point of sale (PoS) and online transactions using cards at $100, £90, €130 and CD$360.
However, since the beginning of July, Nigerian banks removed the restriction on Naira-Denominated ATM cards for credit and debit transactions outside Nigeria. That means Naira-Denominated ATM cards now work in Houston, London, Shangai and just about anywhere on the planet. The banks have also raised their dollar spending limits on card transactions abroad by as much as 1,900%. Card transaction limits went from between zero to $100 monthly to as high as $500 to $2,000, depending on the level of dollar liquidity the bank enjoys.
Restrictions on foreign spending lifted
On July 10, GTBank increased the monthly dollar spending limit on its naira MasterCard for international payments from $100 to $1,000, representing a 900% rise. Although the bank allowed customers to access the funds through PoS and other online channels, it restricted cash withdrawals from foreign ATMs.
On July 18, Fidelity Bank also raised the monthly spend limit on international transactions to $1,000. CEO Nnamdi Okonkwo said that his bank had lifted the restrictions on card transactions abroad following improved foreign exchange liquidity in the banking system based on the various economic recovery measures instituted by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“We encourage customers to always insist on being billed in the currency of the county in which the purchases are made, especially PoS payments, in order to avoid attracting additional charges,” he added.
On July 19, UBA raised limits on its debit and prepaid naira cards from $100 to $2,000. Chukwuma Nweke, Executive Director, Operations and Technology at UBA said the raising of international card spending limits was in response to customers’ demand for higher limits and indication of rising confidence in the local economy.
The action, he explained, would make customers’ transactions abroad convenient and seamless. “The policy shift allows our customers to make foreign payments on PoS and web and also withdraw cash from ATM subject to the current limit of $100 per day,” he said.
FirstBank also raised limits on foreign transactions on naira cards to $1,100 monthly across ATMs, PoS, and online channels. The bank’s limit on daily ATM withdrawals was raised to $300 for all countries except the United Arab Emirates and China, where it was pegged at $250 monthly for PoS and online transactions.
Ecobank Nigeria also reviewed upwards daily spending limits for customers using its naira MasterCard for international payments on PoS and online channels from $100 to $1,000 for its platinum card customers. Gold and standard card holders’ limits were set at $750 and $300 respectively. The bank equally enabled $100 daily ATM cash withdrawals on all the card variants.
The bank expressed its commitment to supporting customers’ shopping needs abroad, adding that customers can also use their foreign currency denominated cards to enjoy limitless spending limits abroad.
Olakunle Ezun, Head of Treasuries at Ecobank Nigeria, said the increases on card spending limits across key banks would help travellers pay their hotel bills, make reservations and carry out othe transactions using their debit cards.
He said the CBN-sustained dollar interventions helped boost market liquidity which has been positive for the economy while reducing foreign currency pressure on banks.
Data from the CBN showed that it has committed over $6bn to key segments of the market in the last six months, a practice that has firmed the naira against the dollar. Some of the funds were channeled into settling demands for Personal Travel Allowances (PTA), Business Travel Allowances (BTA), medical needs and school fees payment abroad.
New FX window spurs foreign interest
Since its unveiling 0n April 24 the Investors’ and Exporters’ (I&E) FX Window has attracted over $4bn into the economy and boosted the naira’s stability – all of which helped local banks to adjust their card spending limits abroad.
“The Central Bank of Nigeria, in a continuing effort to deepen the foreign exchange market and accommodate all FX obligations, hereby announces a special window for investors, exporters,” said the CBN in a circular announcing the inception of the window. “The purpose of this window is to boost liquidity in the FX market and ensure timely execution and settlement for eligible transactions,” said the CBN
Nigerians at atm
The I&E FX Window, also called ‘willing-buyer willing-seller window’, allows foreign investors to find buyers for their dollars at a mutually agreed price, with trading taking place by phone. The CBN controls about 15% of all the transactions carried out in the window.
The volume of transactions is increasing. Activity in the week ending July 7 saw a total of $407.40m traded, a 30.55% increase from the $312.06m recorded the previous week.
Ezun said the era when banks were postponing settlement of dollar obligations were over as those obligations are matured and fully settled by the CBN.
He expects stability in the foreign exchange market to be sustained in the short to medium term as the CBN continues its intervention in the spot and forward markets and equally records continuous dollar inflows through the I&E FX Window.