Lagos, December 9, 2020 – Stakeholders at the Ecobank-Vanguard Digital Financial Inclusion virtual summit say collaborations and well thought out partnerships are needed to drive the financial inclusion strategy of operators and regulators in 2021. They averred that though great strides were made in the course of the year, especially during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, more concerted efforts are needed to overcome challenges within the landscape to make financial inclusion services more pervasive.
Specifically, Alan Sinfield, the Chief Executive Officer, 9mobile, said though the telecom operators are playing a vital role in financial inclusion of unbanked and underbanked, collaboration and partnership of all stakeholders was key to increase volume of digital transactions and mobile money activities. Mr. Sinfield, who lauded Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for granting licenses to 3 Payment Service Banks (PSBs) recently, noted that the PSBs would further help to drive financial inclusion and critically stimulate savings and investment as more liquidity is mobilized from the informal sector to the main stream financial system that will translate to increased economic activities.
“Telcom operators in Nigeria have a customer advantage that financial institutions could benefit from to deepen their penetration. Banking started before telecommunication, but there are more active mobile lines than active bank accounts in Nigeria. A very key indication that we can achieve more through collaboration”. He stated.
In their contribution, Jacqueline Jumah, Head, Digital Financial Services, EFInA and Ronke Kuye, Chief executive Officer, SANEF Ltd, said agency banking recorded phenomenal patronage during the covid 19 pandemic lockdown when doors of banks were closed across the country, noting that the development is a proof for the need of collaboration between both banking and telecoms sector. They emphasized that stakeholders need to collaborate on research, data collection and sharing to ascertain the financially exclusive citizens with a view to reaching them. According to Juman, “There is need for research and collaboration among all stakeholders to ascertain what is actually happening in the life of the people especially those at the bottom of the pyramid. Also, partnering the regulators and other entities will enhance financial inclusiveness.”
For Olanike Kolawole, Head Agency Banking, Ecobank Nigeria, agency banking remains a critical factor in financial inclusion strategy, adding that it was a way to reach citizens in the rural areas. She disclosed that Ecobank presently has 17, 000 Xpress points across the country, adding that through Ecobank’s Xpress points, many youths and rural women now have access to basic banking services and micro credit. She called for collaboration between Fintechs, telcos and banks to drive agency banking. “Agency banking digital ecosystem is seeing a market woman going to an Agent location to deposit her cash for daily sales rather than take the cash home and the cash also useful to the Agents in paying out to those who want to withdraw from their accounts. The collaboration between a Petrol station dealer and an Agent to ensure his huge cash daily is available to Agents to use means we are solving problems with Agency banking is accessibility and great convenience.”
In his opening statement, Managing Director, Ecobank Nigeria, Patrick Akinwuntan noted that the biggest growth opportunities in digital financial inclusion lies in the ability to combine mobile phone, cards and agency banking services in the most cost effective and convenient way to reach the citizenry on sustainable basis. Akinwuntan explained that though bank branches and ATM channels are easy to access, they are cost intensive to scale and less attractive to mass-market financial service providers. He said agency banking, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), mobile app, card services, including internet banking and chat bots remain optimum point for digital financial inclusion.
Specifically, Mr. Akinwuntan disclosed that Ecobank has been committed to driving digital financial inclusion through her pan Africa network advantage, award winning capabilities and various flagship products and services. “We collaborate with Fintechs in Africa, as we are present across 33 countries in Africa. If you wish to bring your innovation into the financial system, you can reach out to us and we will guide you through the required regulatory requirements and then integrate your innovation into our digital payments and financial system”. He stated.
The Ecobank Vanguard Digital Financial Inclusion summit was designed to convene policy makers, operators, business and thought leaders as well as industry professionals to chat the way forward for the Nigerian digital financial landscape, specifically financial inclusion for the vast majority of citizens operating within the informal sector of the economy.