Customers transacting business inside a banking hall

Commercial banks in the country and the Central Bank of Nigeria recently launched an initiative to promote financial access with the attraction of 60 million unbanked citizens into the financial system in three years. Bamidele Famoofo, who covered the event, reports

Chief Executive Officers of key commercial banks in Nigeria gathered at the Ijewere Hall of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) last Tuesday with one agenda on their minds – how to deepen financial inclusion in the country. They planned to increase the number of participants in the financial industry by 60 million over the next three years by creating a Shared Agent Network Programme (SANEP) that will take banking to every nook and cranny of Nigeria. In pursuit of that goal, the bank chiefs hope to enrol 40 million additional Nigerians for the Bank Verification Number (BVN) by 2020.

Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Access Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe, in his welcome address at the occasion, said, “It is believed that access to a bank account is a first step towards broader financial inclusion since it allows storing money, sending money, and receiving payments.”

Wigwe, who is also the chairman of the Body of Bank CEOs, added, “A transaction account can also serve as a gateway to other financial services, which is why ensuring that people worldwide can have access to a transaction account is the focus of the World Bank Group’s Universal Financial Access 2020 initiative.”

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), main driver of the 2020 financial inclusion agenda, aims at achieving 80 per cent financial inclusion in Nigeria by that date. The Nigerian Body of Bank CEOs says the launch of the Shared Agent Network is a way of working together with the apex bank to achieve its 80 per cent financial inclusion target by 2020.

A statement issued by the body said, “The Nigerian Body of Banks CEOs recognises that access to financial services is an enabler to economic and social development. To this end, Nigerian banks remain fully committed to driving digital access to, and use of formal financial services by excluded, underserved and low income Nigerians, i.e. financial inclusion.”

Services

The primary responsibility of the Shared Agent Network created by the CBN, Nigerian banks, licensed mobile money operators, and super agents, is to accelerate financial inclusion in the country through a Shared Agent Network Programme.  The programme will introduce new micro loans, savings, insurance and pension products for the benefit of unbanked, financially excluded and low income Nigerians.

Strategy

SANEP entails the roll-out of 500,000 financial agent outlets by the CBN, as  super agents and mobile money operators are expected to work towards deepening financial inclusion, specifically by deploying agent banking facilities in underserved and financially excluded locations across Nigeria. According to the bank chiefs, each agent outlet will provide basic financial services, such as account opening, BVN enrolment, cash deposit, cash withdrawal, funds transfer, and bills payment.

Sources close to the arrangement disclosed that operators were expected to roll out, beginning from the northern Nigeria geo-political zones, and migrate southwards.

The approved CBN-Bankers Committees’ roll-out ratio shows that the North will account for the bulk of the outlets. For instance, North-east and North-west would get 30 per cent each, while North-central gets 20 per cent of the rollout points. Meanwhile, South-south and South-east will get 7.5 per cent apiece, while South-west attracts only five per cent of the shared network.

Agent Network

The Nigerian Body of Bank CEOs disclosed that they were committed to the aggressive roll-out through SANEP’s 600,000 agents in three years, beginning with 250,000 in 2018. The figure is planned to rise to 500,000 in 2019 and it will eventually hit the 600,000 mark in 2020. Besides rolling out the outlets, it is part of the plans of the banks to upgrade all Point of Sale (POS) terminals in Nigeria to about 130,000 points, to make services, such as funds transfer, bill payments, and cash in/cash out, easier for Nigerians.

CBN/NIBSS

“The success of the programme will depend largely on the role of both the CBN and the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS),” the bank CEOs disclosed.

The CBN is to play the critical role of channelling government’s intervention in similar payments through the shared agent network and reviewing guidelines for achieving a commercially viable pricing model for the agent networks. The apex bank will also obtain special concessions from the state governments for common signage and collaterals to drive awareness, provide flexible regulatory framework for BVN enrolment, and standardise KYC for account opening across all institutions. It is also the responsibility of the central bank to consider the reinstatement of the cashless policy to drive activity to the agent locations.

On its part, NIBSS will be required to swiftly perform the functions of clearing house for data, develop the format for reporting, and provide unified API’s for services. Other responsibilities of the NIBSS under the shared network agent programme are to facilitate remote enrolment and capture for BVN, settlement for interbank transactions, and procurement and maintenance of centralised infrastructure.

Benefits

The benefits of SANEP cut across every sphere of the nation’s economy. According to the bank chiefs, it will create 500,000 new jobs for Nigerians in 2018 alone. For an average Nigerian, reduced transaction costs, convenience, job opportunities and increased adoption of digital financial services are up for grabs. SANEP will provide the platform to handle government’s social disbursements and initiatives as well as create financial inclusion and empowerment, positive social impact, and development for the people.

To the Nigerian financial sector, SANEP is expected to increase adoption of digital payments, agility and flexibility, lower operational costs. Financial experts believe it will reduce the barrier of lending to individual and small businesses. “It will lead to the integration of the formal and informal economy, social impact and development,” one financial expert added.

Meanwhile, the gains of SANEP are not limited to individuals and the financial sector in Nigeria. According to experts, the benefits will extend to both the CBN and government. For instance, it is expected that SANEP will help both the CBN and government achieve their financial inclusion and social economic development goals, enhance integration of the formal economy and inclusive growth and development in Nigeria.  It will boost the ability to drive digital payments, improve tax collection, reduce crime, and facilitate social disbursements, while also reducing cash dependency and improving data gathering in the country.