How Technology-driven Initiatives are Boosting Financial Inclusion

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Opportunities in the financial sector are largely untapped with only little proportion of the population harnessing them. With ever-improving cutting edge technology, the unbanked are drawn to the financial landscape to reap the benefit inherent in the array of products introduced by banks. Kunle Aderinokun writes on recent efforts at boosting financial inclusion using Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC as case study

One of the compelling aspirations of the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the last two years has been to ramp up the numbers for financial inclusion in the country. To this end, Nigeria’s apex bank, alongside other regulators in the financial services sector, including the National Pension Commission (PenCom), has vigorously pursued the agenda of financial inclusion through various initiatives with a clear intent to bring millions of Nigerians, especially those in the informal sector and the unbanked, into the banked population. This ambition, which is not restricted to banking alone, cuts across the full continuum of financial services, ranging from bank accounts, insurance subscription, retirement savings account, and fund investments, among others.

Perhaps the bedrock and main enabler of recent improvements witnessed in the financial services sector in areas like customer experience and service quality, speed to market financial products and services and quick turnaround time in processing financial transactions stems primarily from advancements in modern information and communications technology, investment in its adoption and integration. Leading financial services providers in the country, especially the Deposit Money Banks (DMBs), have all embraced innovations made available and possible by constantly evolving technology, in a bid to remain relevant, grow market share, expand footprints, do business profitably, stay ahead of the competition, and deliver more value to their customers and other critical stakeholders.

The major setback many experts have, however, cited as the bane of financial inclusion in Nigeria is the apparent distrust for financial services institutions and low literacy levels among Nigerians. Credit must be given to the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria for measures they have put in place to raise the bar on financial literacy in the country as a panacea to driving financial inclusion, although a lot more work is required if the low public confidence and trust in the financial services sector is to receive any boost. Executive Director, Personal and Business Banking, Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC, Mr. Babatunde Macaulay, says financial inclusion is one issue that CBN is driving passionately and Stanbic IBTC and other banks are part of that drive.

The question therefore is what must be done to effectively remove this barrier and disincentive to financial inclusion in Nigeria. One determinant that readily comes to mind is innovation and technology. This perhaps must be why many commercial banks have been remodeling their operational strategies to de-emphasise focus on increasing footprint via branch network expansion and steadily moving towards digitisation and mobile solutions. Original Equipment Manufacturers like Hewlett Packard or HP, Dell, Samsung and other makers of computing devices had predicted many years ago that the future of computing is mobile, hence the unprecedented revolution in the handheld device and mobile phone industry.

Chief Executive of Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC, Dr. Demola Sogunle, had also attested that the ongoing digital transformation and revolution, which the financial services sector was currently witnessing had only just begun. The bank chief made this pronouncement during the official commissioning of the bank’s first self-service fully digital branch at the Maryland Mall in Lagos, in December last year. Almost exactly a year before that, precisely in November, 2015, Stanbic IBTC, in furtherance of ongoing digitisation drive aimed at serving its customers better through excellent and innovative products and services, launched Africa’s very first personal teller machine (PTM), an interactive automated teller machine that enables its customers perform full banking activities.

The Personal Teller Machine is a device that offers customers the benefits of both self-service video banking and the branch teller experience combined in one solution. The PTM combines video banking collaboration and remote transaction processing banking technology embedded within the machine to give customers the choice of self-service or connecting with a remote teller in a highly personalised, two-way audio/video interaction. The machine’s interactive nature helps to close the ‘intimacy gap’ that is currently missing on the conventional automated teller machine (ATM). So if the objective of the bank for deploying the PTM was to further enrich customers’ banking experience by allowing them perform banking operations such as account opening, cash deposit and withdrawal, cheque deposit and other general account enquiries like account balance, loan enquiries, card-related services, among other functions, without having to use their debit cards, then this purpose has ultimately been achieved. The total value of transactions done on Stanbic IBTC Bank PTM as at March 2017 was N34,264,500; with total deposit valued at N8,805,500, withdrawal valued at N25,459,000 in 1,985 sessions.

These numbers may suggest that the PTM has been a successful innovative solution deployed by Stanbic IBTC to serve its customers. So in spite of the enormous potential and benefits of the PTM, Stanbic IBTC went a step further to explore other alternative solutions to deliver service to the retail end of the market and this was mobile. Mobile is believed to present a huge opportunity for Nigerian banks to drive financial inclusion, especially considering the high mobile devices penetration rate in the country. The recent trend by banks of reengineering and re-launching their mobile banking application offerings clearly gives credence to this assertion.

Macaulay said Stanbic IBTC was one of the very first financial institutions in Nigeria to revamp its mobile app, which it launched into the market in November 2016 to boost customer service delivery and user experience. The app tagged ‘Appyness’ placed emphasis on seamless user experience, aesthetics and convenience. He said one unique feature of Stanbic IBTC Mobile App was that it offers banking, asset management, pension and mobile money services on a single infrastructure. “The new app makes it possible for customers to see their bank accounts, mobile wallet, pension and mutual fund investments in one place, giving them total control of their money and investments. Apart from being fast and dependable, the new app is feature-rich, with capacity to conduct funds transfer, bills payment, airtime purchase, cheque services, mobile money and lifestyle services. Its other features, unavailable in most other banking apps, include monitoring pension accounts, checking mutual funds account, redeeming and making additional investments in mutual funds. The Stanbic IBTC Mobile App is the only mobile platform that offers a convergence of financial services,” Macaulay stated.

The ED said Stanbic IBTC believed technology was the best way to go, noting that across the banking industry, the number of transactions in the branches had reduced significantly whereas offsite transactions, whether via the internet, mobile, ATMs, POS, had increased and continued to grow.

This position was reaffirmed by the Head, Mobile and Acquiring Channels, Stanbic IBTC Bank, Francis Nwoboshi, while speaking at the 2016 Annual Brands & Marketing Conference of the Brand Journalists’ Association of Nigeria (BJAN), in Lagos themed ‘Mobile Money in Nigeria – Challenges, Opportunities, and Threats’. Nwoboshi said the bank believed Nigeria’s socio-economic demography presented a considerable opportunity for innovative mobile propositions that could deepen financial access in the country.

Technology is converging at an exigent speed while disruptive technology and digital communications are impacting so much many traditional business models, including financial services. Nigerian banks and other financial services providers must have realised that these are very exciting times, which require new thinking and approach or better put, innovation.

A recent Accenture Consulting research on the future of financial technology (fintech) and banking revealed that the digital revolution in financial services is under way, but how this would impact current banking players is unclear. It warned that digital disruption had the potential to shrink the role and relevance of today’s banks, but could all together help them create better, faster, cheaper services that make them an even more essential part of everyday life for institutions and individuals. As more Nigerian banks make a model shift towards digitisation and mobile, it is expected that this would positively impact the nation’s desire to attain widespread financial inclusiveness and promote transition to mobile banking solutions, e-Government solutions, cashless policy and drive growth verticals for business-to-business (B2B) mobile services.

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    Jemena Dewey – Manager at https://www.sirsol.com/