Service providers, manufacturers, businessmen and women have been urged to prioritise the interest and satisfaction of their customers or face appropriate sanctions from the government.
Speaking at a one-day forum tagged, “fair digital finance” organised by the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA) to mark 2022 World Consumer Rights Day, the state Commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives, Lola Akande assured the consuming public that the state government would ensure that their rights are protected at all times.
Akande emphasised that the celebration provides an avenue to demand that the rights of all consumers should be respected and protected, and to protest against market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights.
On the importance of LASCOPA, Akande explained that the state government, having observed that so many people do not know their rights as consumers, approved the establishment of the agency to serve as the last hope for aggrieved and dissatisfied consumers.
Highlighting some of the rights of the consumer, she said that consumers have right to safety and healthy environment, right to seek redress, to basic need among others, informing that service providers, marketers and business people do have their rights also.
In her words: “If consumers are having any problem, we will ensure their rights are protected and if need be, sanctions will be meted out to those who violate the rights of consumers, be it companies, banks or law enforcers.
“I urge LASCOPA to keep sensitising the people to know their rights and the need for Consumer’s Rights to be protected at all times.”
On the theme of the celebration, Akande said: “It is no longer news that digital technologies are reshaping payments, lending, insurance, and wealth management, hence becoming a key enabler for consumers of financial services.
“The importance of access to finance cannot be understated; a well-functioning and inclusive financial system has the benefit of poverty reduction through the provision of financial safety-nets. Yet, financial inclusion is still an issue in Nigeria as only 30 percent of adults have a bank account. Digital innovation in banking is one of the avenues to tackle this problem, and Nigerian banks are gradually and successfully venturing into the digital realm of mobile banking to do so.
“The world today is confronted with the emergence and necessity of digital banking in financial services. In developed economies, this has posed a threat to established major retail banks as their speed to market and digitisation of banking services draw a large following due their ability to make everyday banking more accessible.
“Nigeria, digital banking plays a much more significant role than a battle between fintechs and retail banks. Digital banking brings a world of opportunity to address pressing issues in access to finance, a young and internet active population, and an increasing focus on customer experience to cater for a growing middle class. There is no doubt that digital financial services and financial technology have driven remarkable changes across the world,” Akande added.
To achieve fair digital finance for all, the commissioner affirmed that it requires a global, collaborative, and coordinated approach, adding that the rapidly evolving and complex nature of digital financial services demonstrate the need for innovative regulatory approaches and digital financial services and products that centre on consumer protection and empowerment.
To her, digital financial services have created new risks along with exacerbating traditional risks that can lead to unfair outcomes for consumers and leave those who are vulnerable behind in an increasingly cashless society.
In her words: “There is strong evidence to suggest these risks have increased in recent years and crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic have enhanced these risks, where vulnerable consumers are more fragile due to economic hardship.
“It is more important now than ever to build on our Knowledge and work together to understand what fair financial services look like in a digital world, and what role consumer-centered financial services can play in global challenges like sustainability. 2022 will be a crucial moment for change with upcoming international policy moments such as the G20 and OECD review of High-level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection.
She opined that digital banking would continue to define Nigeria’s financial landscape adding, “Digital banking is no longer just a series of transactions, but a lifestyle adopted by the millennial and Gen Zs – most of whom grew up using the internet, computers, mobile phones, and smart television sets”.
The board chairman of LASCOPA, Funmi Falana who was represented by a member of the LASCOPA board, Lekan Rotimi, stated that the rights of consumers must be protected so that injustice can be addressed under the guidance of the law.
On the theme for the event, Falana maintained that digital technology is presently influencing purchases and management of investment, the same way the advent of Covid-19 changed the way things are done generally.
She advocated for the positive use of technology to better the lots of consumers, lessen their burden and improve on services rendered to them as against leveraging on technology to bring more discomfort to the consuming public.
Speaking earlier, General Manager Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA), Afolabi Solebo stressed the need to improve practices of digital financial services to make fair digital finance a reality for consumers everywhere.
Solebo lauded consumers international for emphasising digital finance in its theme for this year’s celebration and added that these sector activities require to be given the desired attention so as to achieve the objective of building a healthy nation.
According to him, the significance of the celebration cannot be over-emphasised in view of the importance of protecting consumers and providing critical questions for key decision makers to ensure a digital market place that is inclusive, safe, data protected, private and sustainable for all.
Giving a brief history of the event, he said: “This celebration takes place on a global scale as the day marks the anniversary when President Kennedy became the first world leader to recognise the important role consumers play in the economy. President Kennedy declared four basic consumer rights: the right to safety, to choose, to information and the right to be heard.
While maintaining that consumer is an essential part of a safe and secure financial system, he said: “Consumer should be able to understand the financial system and the choices that they can make, over 3 billion or 40 percent of the world’s population is now online, compared with 1 percent in 1995, with all projections suggesting that the number will continue to rise. The financial system that we will see in 10 years’ time, even in five years’ time will be different to the one we have today.
“The financial system is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. The way financial institutions work is also changing, we need to be ready to shape the changes ahead and not be overwhelmed by them”.
Therefore, he lauded the efforts of the governor of Lagos state, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu for supporting their efforts in sensitising and educating consumers of their rights.
An assistant director with the Lagos State Ministry of science and technology, Jimoh Wasiu, who delivered a paper on “fair digital finance”, averred that LASCOPA as the government agency in charge of consumer-related affairs is expected to deploy state of the art technology system to ease the collection, tracking and resolution of consumer’s complaints.