NIGERIA – The Central Bank of Nigeria has issued licenses to 15 mobile money operators as part of its drive towards increasing financial inclusion.

The Nigerian banking system currently consists of 22 commercial banks, 942 micro-finance banks, 5 discount houses, 64 Finance Companies, and 6 development finance banks according to the latest stats by Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN).

The country’s unbanked population however currently stands at a 50 million and mobile phones are increasingly being used for financial services in Nigeria and in a bid to make financial services more accessible.

This has however been hampered by lack of an effective and widespread agent network especially in the Nothern region of the country.

To address the observed absence of a widespread agent network, and concentration of agents in the urban areas, the CBN said it had released guidelines for mobile money services in Nigeria.

The Governor of the central bank, Godwin Emefiele, explained that this was with the intent of bringing the operators on board by utilising their network spread.

“We have so far provided 15 licences to several mobile money operators (MMOs) who are working to increase access to finance using digital channels,” he said.

As part of its financial inclusion drive, the CBN said Shared Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF) was introduced in 2018 as a joint initiative of the CBN and the Bankers Committee.

According to the CBN, SANEF was expected to result in a roll-out of 500,000 agent touch points by 2020.

The services to be delivered at such touch points were given as cash-in, cash-out, funds transfer, bill payments, airtime purchase, government disbursements and remote enrolment of the BVN to an estimated 60 million Nigerians that were unbanked.

The central bank stated that licensed MMOs and super agents were expected to deploy financial service agent outlets in under-served urban, semi-urban and rural areas in Nigeria, with higher priority in the northern geopolitical zones, where financial exclusion rates were higher.

Nigeria’s apex bank further noted that it introduced a license category for super agents in 2016 in the payment ecosystem.

It said, “The super agents are expected to complement the efforts of the MMOs and banks, by hiring and managing sub-agents and extending financial services to the unbanked at minimal cost.

“The super agents are expected to be effective at extending the reach to locations where bank branches may not be available,” the bank said in a statement.