Over 26 million Nigeria bank accounts could be closed for not having Bank Verification Number (BVN)

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Nearly 20 months ago, Nigeria’s Central Bank called for the country’s 52 million bank account holders to undergo a registration process to obtain a unique Bank Verification Number (BVN ) which would serve as the first national numeric identifier.

The Central Bank hopes giving everyone a unique number, similar to the U.S.’ social security number, could help reduce banking fraud such as identify theft and help improve security in the country’s financial systems overall.

But despite calls to action and an extensive media campaign to get Nigerians to register, the Central Bank says it has failed to achieve a registration target of 50% and as such, more than 26 million account holders may be losing access to their accounts.

The problem seems to be that the process of registering for the Bank Verification Number was not as smooth as advertised. The Central Bank sold it as a simple process which could be completed within 24 hours but several days after registering, many were still waiting to have their own unique number generated.

The registration process involves the collection of biometric data and a photograph after which account holders are issued unique Bank Verification Numbers which, in addition to biometric data, will be used to authenticate and confirm transactions.

Launched in February last year, the Central Bank announced that the registration process would end by June 30, 2015. However, with Nigerians largely unresponsive, the Central Bank was forced to move the deadline for registration to October 31 after which it has insisted no further extension will be granted. The penalty for failing to register for the Bank Verification Number is a loss of access to the bank account.

Long queues and confusion were a recurring theme throughout the account verification process as banks often seemed unprepared for the mass exercise. Taking the Nigerian diaspora into consideration, the Central Bank ensured that the verification process could be undertaken in Nigerian embassies but the process seemed to lack organization and in London, the embassy was forced to call in the police to quell the disorder after huge crowds showed up.

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