Making GSI available to every lender would be the CBN’s smartest decision

The biggest mistake CBN has made, despite its commendable and spirited efforts to get credit into the hands of every Nigerian, was to lock out non-CBN licensed lenders from accessing the global standing instruction (GSI) to recover loans.

GSI is one of the most powerful and currently impotent tools ever created by CBN to support the credit industry.

Here it is; no country can grow without credit. Credit grew the leading global economies. For instance, when China set out to transform its economy, introducing credit to stimulate the manufacturing and tech industries was one of the most brilliant things they did. Funding their export was probably the smartest thing ever.  

The reality is that Nigeria and other underdeveloped countries are doing poorly because there is no credit, and there is a massive credit gap, even at the consumer and SME levels.

If there’s such a massive credit gap lenders can make money from, why aren’t traditional and digital lenders tripping over themselves to avail credit to the over 100m adults? The simple answer is that Nigerians won’t pay back, and there is nothing any lender can do about it. You can jump, shout, scream, etc., but nothing will happen.

Nobody needed to tell lenders to go super risk averse, which has led to stunted economic growth.

It means a young mother can’t quickly pay school fees, forever conscripting her kids to a cycle of poverty powered by illiteracy. It means the young man with a medical emergency can’t get the treatment he needs, cutting short a life of fulfillment and glory. It also means SMEs that needed short-term finance never reached them; all the value they could have created was never realized.

Then came along the CBN with the GSI to address this problem. But so far, D- in scoring.

How does the GSI work?

The GSI is a CBN-led initiative created to help banks and other financial organizations recover unpaid loans from persistent debtors, but only as a last resort. The core of the GSI proposition is one of the smartest things the CBN and banks have ever pulled off. 

Despite having the means to repay their debt, we can’t ignore the reality that many borrowers refuse to do so and choose to evade their obligations. GSI allows a lender (a bank) to request for a borrower’s accounts in other banks to be debited when the borrower has defaulted, but the lender suspects that the borrower has funds elsewhere. 

It requires that all bank accounts be linked to the borrower’s bank verification number (BVN). The borrower issues a mandate during the loan application process that authorizes the bank to activate the GSI in the case of default. This mandate is valid for as long as the loan remains unpaid, so the banks can keep debiting the defaulting borrower until their loan obligation is fully met. 

Given this tool’s power to protect borrowers and abuse, there are strong penalties for misusing the GSI.

Why hasn’t GSI fixed the problem?

Would introducing the GSI would have been the secret ingredient to make credit blow in Nigeria, finally? Nah. Banks are too shy to use this for reasons I’m not ready to air here. Besides, bankers are not used to consumer loans, so they don’t care.

The small credit Nigeria has is driven by money lenders and other digital initiatives. 99% of them are outside of CBN’s purview. Of course, getting licensed by the CBN is so hard that most people with common sense won’t even attempt it. It’s harder than getting a seat to go to Mars. Hello Elon?

So we’re at an impasse.

But let’s take a step back. CBN should be more interested in the growth of loans and the economy, irrespective of who gives the loan.

Here’s what the CBN can do

The GSI is too impressive a creation to let it go to waste. There are a few things CBN can do to increase its effectiveness exponentially. 

Opening up the GSI to everyone, whether licensed by CBN or not, would be a big step in the right direction. If possible, it could even be opened up to individual lenders. 

Before you scream “abuse by lenders”; the penalties for misusing the GSI offer protection to borrowers who are targeted unjustly.

An immediate benefit is that to use the GSI, loans have to be registered on the Credit Risk Management System (CRMS) when a loan is granted. The CRMS is a central database that contains consolidated credit information on borrowers and their debt obligations across banks and other financial institutions. It’s almost a Credit Bureau. The CBN mandates financial institutions to enter all outstanding debts with a minimum value of ₦1 million and update the status of these debts every month. Before extending credit facilities to any borrower, the financial institution must also conduct a status inquiry on the borrower’s existing debt obligations in other financial institutions via the CRMS to ensure they can repay and have not abandoned their obligations elsewhere.

Additionally, CBN could make a few more adjustments that help everyone. They could allow GSI as a primary payment method; there’s no need to wait until the loan defaults. CBN could also charge a token for lenders to pay when they use the service since it creates value for everyone on the chain.

CBN has all to gain and nothing to lose. They get to see all the loans via the CRMS. That data helps the CBN, regulators, and other stakeholders make better-informed macro decisions and strategies. This way, the CBN  helps enforce consequences. Nigerians who choose not to pay back loans do so because there is little to no enforceable consequence for their harmful behavior. A loss reduction for lenders will follow; this will also crash the interest rate since the risk premium will also reduce. All these will make for a healthier credit market, hopefully stimulating economic growth. This is something I’d like to believe the CBN can get behind. 

However, this may also backfire: if too much cash is suddenly available, it could lead to severe inflation.

Considering how much there is to gain from these adjustments, it makes sense for CBN to pursue this line of action, and it’s ultimately beneficial to everyone except those who don’t want to repay their loans. And why should we decide based on what’s good for the bad guys anyway?

Is proof of funds a fraud?

The proof of funds loans has allowed over 100,000 Nigerians to travel abroad for schools or immigration without having the funds demanded by the embassies. This is a fraud but even then, what are the implications for Nigerians?

The proof of funds loan is the most important financial product to have impacted almost 100,000 middle-class Nigerians over the last two years. It has been the foundation to enable most Nigerians that have achieved the “Nigerian dream” to japa

But could this be the biggest fraud of all time? 

What is proof of funds?

This is a signed official statement of a bank account that a student or an immigrant has the funds to settle or take care of themselves in a foreign country. Embassies have been demanding this for centuries, especially the UK, Canadian and Australian embassies. 

What’s the genesis?

Let’s understand that to say our economy is battered and the country itself is messed up is an understatement. It’s expected for anyone with a shred of sense to run for their lives. Maybe if I didn’t think staying in cold weather too long would kill me, I would be running too.

The hitch is with a bad economy; people don’t have the money to provide proof of funds. Let’s think about it; If they had thousands of pounds stashed away somewhere, they might not be so desperate to run off to a foreign land in search of milk and honey. 

This is where the smart lenders entered the game. 

How does it work?

Lenders saw an opportunity to provide those with migration plans with a profitable loan product. Tons of lenders do this. They give individuals the large loan needed to show proof of funds to the embassies.

You’re probably wondering what’s stopping Nigerians from simply taking this loan and using the money to japa, never to be seen again, the same way they treat other loans. Well, the bank account containing the loan is controlled by an internal bank friend collaborating with the lender. The account is locked, so the borrower has no access to the funds. The money only belongs to you on paper.

If you take out a loan like this, you pay monthly interest in the region of 3%. So proof of funds of £20,000 means ₦20 million (yeah, a pound is about ₦1,000) and ₦600 thousand per month for six months. Good luck to all who set out on this journey.

Is proof of fund fraud?

Now let’s do a quick English language class. What exactly is fraud? The answer: a false representation of facts. The embassy has requested confirmation that you have funds to support yourself when you make the big move to their country. But you borrowed money that you definitely don’t have to prove, deceiving the authorities. 

It’s a fraud. No two names.

Take it easy; I’m not here to judge. I, too, did this when a family member was going for a post-graduate program. I used my boss’ account as a guarantee of funds. Don’t quote me; I will deny you. 

What would probably happen? 

As everything is abused by Nigerians, this would probably unravel soon. The outcry has already begun. Nigerians have started arriving in these countries with only little to their name and may soon become destitute. Many have already found themselves in less-than-ideal conditions; some have been asked to withdraw from universities because they couldn’t pay the balance of their fees. Others are homeless and forced just to lay their heads anywhere they find. 

These countries will soon find out that these guys never had the money in the first place. 

Would they ban us as the UAE did? Maybe not. But they could start doing what CBN did to those who asked for licenses (that’s a story for another day) by forcing them to either open an account in a foreign country or pay school fees and accommodation costs 100% ahead of visa application.
Although things are undeniably tough in Nigeria and many of us understand and maybe even sympathize with the japa craze, the sad reality about cutting corners like this is that those coming behind you will probably have to pay for your sins too.