CBN Grants MTN, Airtel Approval in Principle to Operate Payment Service Bank

Emma Okonji

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has granted approval in principle to MTN and Airtel to operate a payment service bank (PSB) across the country, aimed at further driving financial inclusion in Nigeria.

The approval in principle for both telecoms operators is coming two years after CBN granted the same category of licence to 9mobile, Globacom and another operator.

CBN had since communicated the approval in principle licence to both MTN and Airtel.

Announcing the approval yesterday, MTN in a statement signed by the Company’s Secretary, Uto Ukpanah, said: “MTN Nigeria Communications Plc (MTN Nigeria) as promoter, received an Approval in Principle (AIP) dated November 4, 2021 from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for a licence application for the proposed MoMo Payment Service Bank Limited. This is the first step in the process towards a final approval, subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions as stipulated by the CBN. The decision to issue a final approval is firmly within the regulatory purview of the CBN and we respect their right and judgment in that regard.”

MTN Nigeria therefore affirmed its commitment towards the financial inclusion agenda of the CBN and the Federal Republic of Nigeria to continue to explore means whereby it can contribute to its fulfilment.

Airtel, which also announced yesterday, the approval granted it by CBN to operate PSB, through a statement signed by the Group Company Secretary, Simon O’Hara, said: “Airtel Africa, with presence in 14 countries across Africa, announces that its subsidiary SmartCash Payment Services Bank Limited has been granted approval in principle to operate a payment service bank business in Nigeria. Final approval is subject to the Group satisfying certain standard conditions within six months.”

Commenting on the approval, the CEO, Airtel Africa, Segun Ogunsanya, said: “I am very pleased that Smartcash has been granted an approval in principle to operate a service bank business in Nigeria. We will now work closely with the Central Bank to meet all its conditions to receive the operating licence and commence operations. The final operating licence will enable us to expand our digital financial products and reach the millions of Nigerians that do not have access to traditional financial services. I am looking forward to working closely with the government, the Central Bank and traditional financial institutions to expand financial inclusion and meet the evolving needs of our customers and the economy.”

Both MTN and Airtel announced separately yesterday, that they have received an Approval in Principle (AIP) from the CBN to operate a payment service bank (PSB) business in Nigeria.

Before now, MTN had a Super Agent Licence from CBN to carry out financial transactions, using its agent network.

THISDAY gathered that permissible activities under the AIP license include: Accept deposits from individuals and small businesses, which shall be covered by the deposit insurance scheme; Carry out payments and remittances (including inbound cross-border personal remittances) services through various channels within Nigeria; Sale of foreign currencies realised from inbound cross-border personal remittances to authorised foreign exchange dealers; Issue debit and prepaid cards on its name; Operate electronic wallet; Render financial advisory services; Invest in FGN and CBN securities; and Carry out such other activities as may be prescribed by the CBN from time to time.

In addition, the PSB license is intended to promote rural financial inclusion and requires that 25 per cent of financial service touchpoints by the operator must be in rural areas.

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