Telcos Challenge NCC to Lead Mobile Money, Cashless Initiative

Emma Okonji

Telecommunication Operators (Telcos) have called on the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to take urgent steps to lead the mobile money and cashless initiative in Nigeria.

The operators who had earlier kicked against the idea of banks leading the cashless initiative, when it was introduced in 2012 by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), had argued that such noble initiative should be telcos-led, since it would ride on the infrastructure of telecommunications operators. But the CBN objected to it and insisted it must be bank-led because of the risk involved in managing public funds.

The CBN had insisted that the banks were in better position to manage financial transactions and public funds.
However, dissatisfied with the position of the CBN, the telcos had argued that the initiative would have been best managed by telcos, while citing M-Pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service, launched in 2007 in Kenya and Tanzania.

According to the operators, mobile money is fast growing in Kenya, through the M-pesa initiative that is telcos-led.
But in spite of the agitation from telcos, the CBN still went ahead to empower the banks to lead cashless and mobile money initiative in Nigeria.

But last week, the telcos agitation to lead the mobile money and cashless initiative in Nigeria, resurfaced, with the telcos blaming CBN and the banks for the slow take-off of mobile money across Nigeria.

The telcos, who spoke at a breakfast forum organised by the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) in Lagos, challenged the NCC to meet with CBN and discuss the possible takeover of the management of mobile money and cashless initiative, arguing that Nigerians are not getting the desired results of a financially inclusive Nigeria, which mobile money and cashless initiative seek to achieve, just because it is bank-led.

Giving reasons why the telcos should lead the mobile money initiative, they explained that over 75 per cent of financial transactions were carried out on the telcos network and supported by telcos’ infrastructure. They also argued that the number of subscribers across telecoms networks, far outnumbered that of bank customers across the country, and that the telcos are in better position to connect the majority of the unbanked, through mobile phone connectivity. According to them, since the telcos currently have over 150 million subscribers who have mobile phone devices, mobile money transfer could be fast enhanced through the mobile phone devises.

Although the issue of who regulates the mobile money and cashless initiative was raised at the forum, but the telcos were of the view that both the NCC and the CBN would become the new regulators, should CBN reverses the bank-led initiative to telcos-led initiative.

The CBN had in 2012, introduced cashless initiative, which included mobile money transaction, designed to reduce the volume of physical cash in circulation. In order to achieve its goal, CBN licenced mobile money operators and commenced the pilot phase of cashless initiative with Lagos. After one year, CBN extended the initiative to five additional states to include Ogun, Kano, Anambra, Abia and Rivers, before it further extended it to all the states of the federation in February 2017.

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