On Tuesday evening, James Chijindu went to a mall in Lagos to grab a meal and groceries. When it came time to pay, he realised he couldn’t access his bank accounts. His GTBank and First Bank debit cards were unresponsive.
There was no prior notification from either bank. So he called a GTBank helpline and the message was clear; Chijindu’s account was closed in accordance with the directive of the Central Bank of Nigeria asking commercial banks to stop facilitating cryptocurrency transactions in Nigeria.
“I will go [to the bank myself] because they are supposed to write to me or inform me,” Chijindu says.
At least GTBank responded to him and gave a reason. Chijindu admits that he had indeed traded cryptocurrency with the bank account. But he did not do so with his First Bank. His First Bank account officer did not respond to his call that evening.
“I am confused. Did they use my BVN to block my accounts?”
It’s a valid question; one bank verification number (BVN) can be used to connect multiple accounts belonging to the same customer. But who triggered the enquiry that discovered the link between Chijindu’s bank accounts? Will more Nigerians have similar questions?
Where GTBank and First Bank closed Chijindu’s account without notification, at least one bank has sent account closure mails with some explanation.
In a screenshot of an email received by an Access Bank customer and seen by TechCabal, the bank said it reviewed the customer’s account activities and “observed that transactions therein have been linked to cryptocurrency trading.”
The email goes on to say “Due to the unregulated nature of Cryptocurrency trading and the further directive from the CBN, we are unable to serve as your organisation’s financial partner going forward.
We have therefore proceeded on the closure of your account and a draft will be issued to you for the equivalent sum in your account.”
Though the language of Access Bank’s email refers to this customer as an organisation, the closed account belonged to an individual, not a business.
Access Bank and GTBank have not responded to multiple requests for comment.
The account closure email advised the affected customer to “visit any of our branches near you to request for your draft.” Chijindu was also advised to do the same by the GTBank officer he spoke to.
The accounts closure appears to be the enforcement of a new law on activities that were not illegal when they were performed. Until the CBN’s recent circular, it was okay for people to trade crypto with their bank accounts.
CBN’s 2017 circular did not illegalize crypto transactions through Nigerian banks. Instead, it advised banks to be alert to any dangers that may be inherent in facilitating crypto transactions.
In response to the order, crypto exchanges have mostly moved their funds from Nigerian commercial banks.
While the CBN’s main reason is that cryptocurrency trades grant anonymity to people who may have malicious or fraudulent intentions, some observers have pointed out that most crypto exchanges do in fact have Know Your Customer procedures aimed at discouraging fraud.