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Ecobank Digital Summit: Stakeholders Support Partnerships, Collaborative Efforts In 2021

-by our correspondent

Collaborations and well thought out partnerships are needed to drive the financial inclusion strategy of operators and regulators in 2021.

This is the submission of stakeholders at the recently concluded Ecobank-Vanguard Digital Financial Inclusion virtual summit.The participants argued that though great strides were made in the course of the year, especially during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, more concerted efforts are needed to overcome challenges within the landscape to make financial inclusion services more widespread.

The Chief Executive Officer of 9mobile, Alan Sinfield, said collaboration and partnership of all stakeholders was key to increase volume of digital transactions and mobile money activities even though the telecom operators are playing a vital role in financial inclusion of unbanked and under banked.

CEO 9mobile, Alan Sinfield.

He commended the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for granting licenses to three Payment Service Banks (PSBs) recently, noting that the gesture would further help the banks to drive financial inclusion and critically stimulate savings and investment as more liquidity is mobilized from the informal sector to the main stream financial system.

“Telcom operators in Nigeria have a customer advantage that financial institutions could benefit from to deepen their penetration, banking started before telecommunication, but there are more active mobile lines than active bank accounts in Nigeria. A very key indication that we can achieve more through collaboration”. Sinfield stated.

In their contributions, the Head, Digital Financial Services, EFInA, Jacqueline Jumah, and the Chief executive Officer, SANEF Ltd, Ronke Kuye, underscored the significance of agency banking during the lock down, noting that phenomenal patronage was recorded during the period when doors of banks were closed across the country.

Head, Digital Financial Services, EFInA, Jacqueline Jumah

The development, they said, is a proof for the need for collaboration between both the banking and telecoms sectors, adding that research, data collection and sharing were key areas for collaboration to ascertain the financially exclusive citizens with a view to reaching out to them. In Juman’s words, “There is need for research and collaboration among all stakeholders to ascertain what is actually happening in the life of the people especially those at the bottom of the pyramid.”

For the Head of Agency Banking, Ecobank Nigeria, Olanike Kolawole, “agency banking remains a critical factor in financial inclusion strategy and a way to reach citizens in the rural areas.” She disclosed that Ecobank currently has 17, 000 Xpress points across the country, adding that many youths and rural women now have access to basic banking services and micro credit through the channel.

“Agency banking digital ecosystem is seeing a market woman going to an Agent location to deposit her cash for daily sales rather than take the cash home and the cash also useful to the Agents in paying out to those who want to withdraw from their accounts. The collaboration between a petrol station dealer and an Agent to ensure his huge cash at hand tis available for Agents to use  daily, knowing that we are solving problems with Agency banking is a great convenience.” She said.

In his opening statement, Managing Director of Ecobank Nigeria, Patrick Akinwuntan, noted that the biggest growth opportunities in digital financial inclusion lies in the ability to combine mobile phone, cards and agency banking services in the most cost effective and convenient way to reach the citizenry on sustainable basis.

MD/CEO, Ecobank Nigeria, Patrick Akinwuntan

Akinwuntan explained that though bank branches and ATM channels are easy to access, they are cost intensive to scale and less attractive to mass-market financial service providers noting that agency banking, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), mobile app, card services, including internet banking and chat bots remain optimum point for digital financial inclusion.

“We collaborate with Fintechs in Africa, as we are present across 33 countries in Africa. If you wish to bring your innovation into the financial system, you can reach out to us and we will guide you through the required regulatory requirements and then integrate your innovation into our digital payments and financial system” The Ecobank boss said.

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