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BANKING AND FINANCE

Agency Banking: Breaking Barriers To Financial Inclusion

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The Central Bank of Nigeria’s plan to create 500,000 agency banking networks nationwide, and to bring in 40 million Nigerians into the formal financial service by  year 2020 is gaining momentum. CHIMA AKWAJA looks at this development.

Nigeria’s journey towards financial inclusion started after the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) adopted the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) in 2012 which articulated the demand-side, supply-side and regulatory barriers to financial inclusion, identified areas of focus, set targets, determined key performance indicators (KPIs) and established the implementation structure.

The NFIS was built on four strategic areas of agency banking, mobile banking/mobile payments, linkage models and client empowerment. Four priority areas were also identified for guideline and framework development namely, Tiered Know-your-Customer (T-KYC) regulations, Agent Banking regulations, National Financial Literacy Strategy and Consumer Protection.

The Strategy defined a set of targets for products, channels and enablers of financial inclusion. The KPIs were defined, based on the various dimensions of financial inclusion, including access, usage, affordability, appropriateness, financial literacy, consumer protection and gender.

The NFIS proposed strategies for each of these elements, which included a comprehensive set of policy and regulatory changes as well as suggested business models. In the implementation of the Strategy, the targets were further tailored to reflect the needs and challenges of individual financial service providers (FSPs).

According to the CBN, Nigeria achieved 60.3 per cent financial inclusion in 2012. It declined to 58.4 per cent in 2016 against a target of 69.5 per cent, which translated to financial exclusion of about 41.6 per cent.

 

Revised Strategy

The revised strategy also recognized the imperative for prioritizing the foundational constraints, the importance of innovation and the need to create an enabling environment to promote financial inclusion. Despite the current implementation challenges, there are some emerging opportunities that enhance the prospects of remarkably increasing financial inclusion in the next years).

These include: (i) the signing of an MoU in 2018 between the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Communications Commission on digital payment systems. (ii) collaborative efforts between the CBN and Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) to create a regulatory sandbox for innovative financial services, (iii) partnership between the Committee of Bank CEOs and the private sector to roll out a 500,000-agent networks nationwide.

Suffice to mention some major goals of the revised Strategy, which include the need to reduce the proportion of adult Nigerians that are financially excluded to 20 per cent in year 2020. Through the Shared Agent Network Expansion Facilities (SANEF) incorporated in 2019, an initiative of the CBN supported by commercial banks, NIBSS and Licensed Mobile Money Operators/Shared Agents, the objective is to accelerate financial inclusion in Nigeria.

SANEF aims to deepen Financial Inclusion in Nigeria, drive financial literacy and campaign awareness via radio, social media and community engagements; on-board 40 million low income un-banked and underserved Nigerians into the financial system; increase financial access points and shared agents to 500,000 by 2020; and support attractive financial products and services such as Savings Accounts, Micro-Credit, Micro-Insurance and Micro-Pensions etc. for low income earners in Nigeria.

Bring Financial Inclusion Closer to the People

The managing director of Capricorn Digital Limited, Degbola Abudu, a CBN licenced Super Agent and approved Aggregator by the Nigeria Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS) Plc said, “Today, emphasis has drastically shifted in favour of mobile money/Bank Agents in view of the fact that this brings financial services closer to the people and provides platform for offering simple diversified low cost financial services across the broad spectrum of excluded population in Nigeria.”

He said through BaxiBox, his company’s agent banking platform, it is creating a unique and stress free digital payments and distribution platform targeted at the mass market. “As a business, we are dedicated to consistently delivering value to our clients through the use of our technology which is a safe, secure and easy way to complete transactions.

“We aim at simplifying the buying experience for the end-consumer, providing speed, convenience, and confidence for the users. An important part of our value proposition is our technology platform, which can aggregate and integrate into a wide range of digital products and services and also serves as a means to empower the immediate community to access financial services (Financial Inclusion).”

He said they are supporting CBN’s NFIS to bring a wide bouquet of digital products and services to grass root and mass market consumers through innovation, technology and a world class retail distribution network that is driven primarily by agents and merchants.

 

Variety Of Financial Services

Capricorn is a full digital company with products ranging from Baxibox/POS, BaxiPay, B2B channels, and BaxiRIMS with objectives and vision to have a retail presence on every street and a digital presence in every household in Nigeria. “We have designed products leveraging on technology through innovation to deliver value to the last mile.

The company like many others, is syncing with CBN’s vision of driving financial inclusion plan in the country to bring financial services closer to the people, creating a unique stress free digital payment platform and provides a platform for offering simple diversified, low cost financial services across the broad spectrum of excluded population in Nigeria.

Commenting on the development, the chief operation officer, Capricorn Digital Limited, Omotayo Oyetayo, said, they are bringing a wide bouquet of digital products and services to the grassroots and mass market consumers through innovation and evolving technology. “Our World Class retail distribution network is driven primarily by our agents and merchants and partners.

“The business is fully dedicated to consistently delivering value to our clients through the use of technology. Our technology is safe, secure, and very easy to complete transactions. We aim at simplifying the buying experience for the end customer and providing speed, convenience and confidence to all our users.”

She said that an important part of their value proposition is to secure unreliable technology platform, which can aggregate and integrate into a wide range of digital products and services. It also serves as a means to empower the immediate community to access financial services.

The agency banking platform is expected to not only give our retailers and merchants a state of the art technology in mobile money experience, but will also deepen our commitment to the public to help solve the everyday financial transactions, and create a profitable margin for the agents across the country, she said.

CBN’s licensed Super Agents have a responsibility to drive financial inclusion in Nigeria. “For us, every CDL Agent and Merchant is effectively a Cashpoint that will be able to Cash-In which allows customers to transfer money to their loved ones, anywhere in the country, by bringing cash to agent locations. They do not need to go to a bank branch anymore.

“Also, customers can do Cash-Out by collecting cash at any agent location as if they were going to collect cash from a bank branch or ATM; open new accounts at agent locations within minutes; use devices as a normal POS to sell their goods and services and receive money direct to their accounts; and POS Withdrawals: Customers that have bank cards can use the devices to withdraw money at agent locations as they would from an ATM,” she said.

Oyetayo stated that they are taking the financial inclusion message to all parts of the country. “Baxi Hero Campaign from Baxi will run in the following geopolitical zones in the country- South – West including Lagos/Ogun; South – East; South – South; North East; North Central and North West to create awareness not only for our company but the popularization of Agent Banking in Nigeria.

She said through this, they will avail retailers, merchants and customers a state of the art technology in mobile money experience, and demonstrate the commitment to the public to help solve the everyday financial transactions, and create a profitable margin for the agents across the country. “I believe we are not only helping to deepen financial inclusion service but also creating an economy where- agents, merchants, government and customers- are all beneficiaries,” Oyetayo added.

 

Beneficiaries In Rural Areas 

Mr. Jackson Duru, a native of Onicha, Ezinihitte local government, Imo state said,  agents with PoS in his community have put an end to the long trip to the banks in Ahiara Junction, Ahiazu LGA, Mbaise where everyone who needs money go to queue up at the banking halls or use the ATMS in order to withdraw money.

“Agency banking is really thriving here, I can testify to that. My relations in the cities send money my bank account and I can easily withdraw it from the PoS agents here for a token fee. This agency banking has created job opportunities for many youths who were formally idle. I have to commend the CBN and those involved,” he said.

LEADERSHIP Sunday learned that the agents earn as much as N100, 000 monthly.  Experts say for CBN to achieve its policy thrust, it is important to ensure that the under-banked and the unbanked are offered inclusive financial services.

Addressing a financial inclusion workshop last month in Lagos, managing director/CEO of SANEF, Ronke Kuye informed that the CBN is making an effort to ensure that financial inclusion target is met by initiating the mobile money agents, SANEF and agency banking services. She said through the initiatives, they’ve rolled out 156,000 agents. To meet its target of 250,000 agents, SANEF is required to capture another 94,000 agents before the end of 2019.

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