The Head, Business Development, Access Bank Plc, Mr. Chinedu Onuoha, in this interview, says the bank aims to grow its customer base to 65 million by targeting the unbanked Nigerians. Nume Ekeghe presents excepts:
What is Access Bank doing in terms of increasing financial inclusion in Nigeria?
What we are trying to do is to ensure that every Nigerian and every adult who can earn a living has access to financial services. More and more, we see statistics showing that a good number of Nigerians don’t still have access to financial services. So, what we do from time to time is to tweak the way it is being done today to induce these Nigerians to financial services and also to bring these services closer to them. Accessibility is a key issue.
Can you speak about Access Bank’s Money Wallet and how it would impact your financial inclusion drive?
The Access money wallet is a different type of account which we designed for customers who for some reasons do not have all that is needed to provide for KYC for other types of bank account. You know there are some accounts you would want to open and they would demand utility bills, address and all of that. But we know the peculiarity of our country Nigeria. Some Nigerians are good citizens who work every day to earn a living, but they don’t live in those houses that have all these documentations such as address and all of these things. So, what we have done with our money wallet is to say, ‘just come, give us your name, phone number, date of birth, and gender, and once you are an adult and a legitimate citizen, we would give you the wallet.’ And the wallet is not a physical wallet, it’s like an account, but most of the transactions on it would be through mobile phone, and also by going to our agent outlet across the country.
So that is what we are trying to do with Access mobile wallet to deepen financial inclusion.
What impact has Access Bank made in reaching the unbanked population?
Cumulatively, we have in the market today, about the highest number of customers, roughly around 18 million customers. What we discovered over time is that due to the way the market is operated, and some regulations that have come from time to time, a good number of these customers could not meet some of the requirements to operate a proper account in the way accounts ought to be operated. Hence, some of them pulled back. Our recent campaign is that we have the solutions to some of those things that made them pull back, and to make them get reactivated. We know that the country is hard; we know that there is recession; we know that people for some reasons took out the little they had in the bank and are using it to survive. We are also saying that, that lifestyle of trying to survive; i.e. paying the mechanics, paying the bricklayers, paying for water etc, you can do all of that through our mobile wallet in a safe and cost-effective manner.
How does one access and operate this money wallet?
So, once you dial *901# today, you would see the normal menu. One of the things you can do is to even check your balance, in case you brought any money into the account before, you can check the balance. Otherwise, you can do simple things like, you want to buy airtime, send money to your brother, transfer money to your sister, or even go to shops and pay for items. There are some shops that have started accepting merchant codes, to also be able to pay. In fact, that is the next wave of what we are going to do, to make sure that every shop, Mallam shops, corner shops, are able to accept payments through these means. But the phase we are now is to ensure that the customers are able to fund in his position, and you can do that funding by going to agents wherever you see them. Today, there are close to 20,000 of them across the country, or wherever you even see a SANEF agent. SANEF agents are over a 100,000. You can go there and present your wallet number, which could be your phone number or your account number. Each of those wallets also has an account number at the back of it. You will present it and state the amount you want to put into it, and you would have that. You can even go to our branches across the country, and then you would be able to fund your position. And once the money is in your position, and then you can use it to do whatever you want to do. And of course, you are safer, having that money in the wallet than having it in your pocket which could be prone to one chance, or one problem or the other that can make you lose that fund.
What are the limitations to this service and is the wallet in USSD or internet banking?
The wallet is USSD driven, through *901#. Talking about the limits, you know we said we are dealing with financial inclusion. So these are not the Dangote’s of this world or the people who have so much money. The central bank has noted that these people may not have all these documentations that we require from other customers, so let’s create something like this for them. So, on a typical day, these class of customers can do up to N50,000 in terms of withdrawals. And this their wallet can hold as much as N300,000. And that covers a large number of Nigerians since our minimum wage is at N30,000.
What is your target in the next four years?
We have turned out to be the largest bank in terms of customer base. Cumulatively, we have about 31 million customers. By 2022, we intend that this should give us a minimum of 65 million customers. We also came up with what we called, ‘Awoof Bruekete’. It intends to encourage those that have funds and abandoned it for a long time for whatever reasons, to start transacting on it. If you do transfers, your first sets of transfers, we would be able to reward you back with 20 per cent. And of course, there is a maximum to it. So if you transfer, for instance, N5000, we would give you 20 per cent of your N5,000 back, instantly. And of course, it is not an open-ended amount, because we are also targeting people who are at a certain segment of the society. So you would be able to get that N1,000 back from your transfer. What we are essentially trying to is to incentivise them, and help them create that habit. Sometimes, you pay transport of N200 to the bank just to go and pay somebody N2,000. But we are saying, from where you are, in your home or other comfort zones, you can do that transfer, and that market woman on her way back would pass through your house and drop the vegetables for you. Those kind of things can happen. And it also helps promote efficiency, and enable people to live a better life.
What is the place of agent banking in this?
We realised that not everybody live close to the city. Most banks today, for good economic and financial reasons have centred themselves around cities and satellite towns. Realising that, the central bank opened up the agent framework. Forthwith, we are one of the leading banks in agent network expansion. Today, we have close to 20,000 agents across the country.
And our desire as we do that is that we want to place ourselves as close as possible to the customers, so that if he needs to do transactions, all he needs to do is to work into wherever he sees ‘Access Closer.’ But in the case, he doesn’t see an ‘Access closer’, if he sees a SANEF, he can go in there and also do those basic transactions. Which includes, deposit, withdrawal etc. We have enabled customers, so once they have points in their positions, they can do other things like transfers, pay electricity bills, DSTV, GOTV and the rest. But in the event that they can’t do it themselves, they can still go back to these agents, and they will assist you to carry out the transactions.
What are you doing to ensure a seamless experience, and solve service disruption challenges?
We cannot run away from the fact that we have infrastructural challenges in this country. Knowing that as an institution, one of the things we do is that we make a lot of investment in our technology. You would agree with me that, the way transfers are today, generally in Nigeria, we have made some remarkable improvements than it was five years ago. It would continue to get better. On our own front, we make investments by making sure that we have the best equipment, making sure that we partner with the best telcos, making sure that we employ the right people also, so make sure that we are always available and to ensure that we are able to service our customers. But if all of these fail, we have one of the best and largest contact centres in the country today. So the customers can always call in there and get mediation. About two years ago, Access Bank took the bold step, to be the first bank to have what we call ombudsman. What it does is that, in the event that you call, and there is an issue that looks complex, it is resolved for you instantly, while we are at the back trying to sort out what the issue is. So we do all this just so you have some level of confidence within the financial community and for people that use our services.