‘Digital banking holds key to financial inclusion’
Nigeria’s economy though confronted with challenges, with digitalization at the core of the national banking strategy, financial inclusion has been given room to grow.
“There are so many people in Africa that are outside the banking system”, “For you to be part of organised society, financial inclusion is a must”, said Segun Agbaje, managing director and CEO of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank), one of the continent’s leading financial institutions.
Slowly but surely, financial inclusion in Africa is improving. The Central Bank of Nigeria predicts that, by 2020, the number of adult Nigerians with access to payment services will increase to around 70 percent. “It’s not as superfast as we would like it to be, but there are marked improvements, and this is steadily increasing”, said Agbaje, speaking to World Finance. “Just 10 years ago, data on financial inclusion was hard to come by. Now we know just how much better we must do in order to expand access to financial services.”
Access to savings, credit, insurance and pensions is also growing rapidly. “Encouraging as these projections are, we know that there’s a lot more to be done. This is why, at GTBank, we are keen to leverage digital technology to expand the reach of our products and services. Mobile has become very, very big and we have begun to see people doing a lot using their mobile phones.”
Agbaje points to the example of Kenya’s M-Pesa, a mobile-based money transfer and finance platform that is now used by more than two thirds of the country’s adult population. The mobile app serves as a channel for approximately 25 percent of Kenya’s GNP. “When I look at our mobile technology compared to a lot of developed economies, I think we’re a lot further ahead. You know, I actually think that the African banking sector is very much ahead in terms of mobile banking. And I think African banks are probably embracing disruptive technologies a lot quicker, because we don’t have as many legacies.”
This readiness to embrace new technologies has helped a large proportion of the African population skip whole stages of traditional digital development altogether. Indeed, for many, a smartphone is their first computer. Agbaje said: “From experience, we know that the major reasons for financial exclusion include the lack of physical access to financial institutions, inadequate understanding of financial institutions and their products, general distrust in the system, and the affordability of products as a result of minimum opening balance requirements.”
Despite these hurdles, technology is helping forward-thinking institutions tackle such challenges head on, prompting financial inclusion to leap forward on the African continent. Agbaje explained: “The world is changing around us and the future of banking is digital. To protect our traditional business and maintain our social relevance, we are incorporating another model, which involves mobile phones, use of data, partnerships and collaborations. Simply put, we are creating a platform to support our traditional business model by leveraging digital solutions.”
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