Airtel Malawi accused of “theft” for keeping fees of failed money transfers

Airtel Malawi Plc has clarified that Airtel Money refund process for failed transactions includes the convenience fee it initially charged at point of sending — parrying the accusation from Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA) which issued a scathing public accusing the company of of “theft”.

A statement from CAMA Executive Director, John Kapito on Thursday, accused Airtel Malawi of “theft” when it withholds mobile money transactions by consumers for 24 hours after each failed transaction, which the company still charges a fee for.

Kapito: Poor Malawians are at the receiving end

Kapito contended that consumers have ended up being inconvenienced by not using their money held by Airtel while the fee for each failed transaction is never refunded.

“It is extremely difficult to understand or appreciate why Airtel decided to be holding money for 24 hours without providing any good justification for such a considered theft practice,” said Kapito in the statement.

“This practice of withholding money by Airtel has inconvenienced consumers who use such a financial digital platform to transact electronically in order to pay for various goods and services.

“This has created mistrust between consumers and various providers of services as they are unable to engage in further business transactions since the money is being held by unscrupulous trader called Airtel Malawi Limited.”

But acting Airtel Money Head, Khumbo Phiri responds that “the Airtel Money refund process for failed transactions to third party partners such as banks, utility providers and other merchants, happens either automatically instantaneously or manually, at most 48 hours, unless there is an exceptional issue.

“This 48-hour window allows for the third party and Airtel to validate the failed transaction first before either party refunds the customer. In the case of Airtel Money, this refund includes the convenience fee.

“In the scenario where a customer erroneously sent funds to a wrong number, we also aim to process the refund or reversal to the customer within the same 48-hour window.”

“However, this is successfully processed, only after the due process of checking and getting authorisation from the wrong recipient is concluded first before the refund is processed to the sender.”

Khumbo Phiri maintains that in the case of Airtel Money, “this refund to the customer who sends funds to a wrong number does not include the convenience fee since the initial transaction was successful.

“During the refund/reversal window, no money can be released to the customer/sender until all due processes are checked and validated. The Airtel Money refund/reversal process is done to mitigate any theft or fraud and mirrors our continued efforts to keep our platform secure, accessible, and convenient for all,” Khumbo Phiri said.

In its statement, CAMA said people are “failing to understand why Airtel holds the money for 24 hours but still charge a fee for such failed transactions, saying the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) has been encouraging and educating Malawian consumers on the need to conduct their transactions on cashless platforms.

“Digital payment is one of the recommended new technology that Malawian consumers are beginning to adopt, the benefits for cashless transactions are many but more importantly they help to authenticate and formalize transactions that are done.

“They also offer maximum security for consumers and service providers; they curb corruption and also reduce the printing and transportation of cash currency notes to various parts of the country which increases economic growth.”

Thus CAMA calls upon RBM to “look into these malpractices that are failing to grow financial digital transactions in Malawi” and also appeals to the Government to “identify and come up with alternative platforms that offer cost effective and affordable charges other than the current unreliable digital financial platforms”.

“Malawi will remain at the bottom to adopt these new financial digital platforms if it relies and expects that unscrupulous institutions such as Airtel to grow and facilitate growth of these new financial digital platforms,” Kapito said.

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