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Agent Banks Will Tackle Issues on Financial Inclusion – Bickersteth

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Sola Bickersteth is the president , Society for Agent Banking Network  Practitioners and Chief Executive, One Network. He is PLD Graduate of the Harvard Business School, USA and an Electronics and Electrical Engineer from the OAU, Ile-Ife.
He worked as the pioneer chief operating officer (COO), Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NIRA). Bickersteth has over twenty three years experience in IT, executing projects like the ChamsCity at Chams Plc, the world largest digital facility as recognized by the Guinness book of World records, Online Payment System for Smartpay, National eGovernment,naira.com as well as a secure IP Network for International Monetary Fund (IMF), Central Bank of Nigeria, Department of State Services,INEC, etc.
He pioneered the introduction of low cost VSAT in Nigeria in partnership with Panamsat Inc in 2001 , oversaw the setting up of the Backbone Infrastructure for the then Public Service Network (PSNet now part of  Galaxy Backbone).  
In this interview with peter ugwu he explained the nitty-gritty surrounding the much expected Agent Banking regime in Nigeria.

One Network
We are a specialized agent network management organization. We are focused on creating one network of shared and structured agent locations for the provision of financial and citizen benefit services across the country.
Our cooperative framework allows interested agents to represent several financial institutions and related service providers at the same time through one network.One Network is the recognised industry leader in agent management and the implementation partnership for NIPOST and other leading Financial Institutions and authorized service providers.
Currently, the organisation has already built technical infrastructure that can be used by any interested organisation to manage networks of neighbourhood agent locations that provide public access to citizen and financial services.

Agent Banking
What Agent banking allows is that a shop owner, for instance a pharmacist can now become an agent or representative of a bank. Customers of the bank can then approach the pharmacist either to deposit or withdraw money, apply to open a bank account.
So they do not need to travel to the banking hall to transact every banking related business. A typical One Network neighbourhood location operates like a human ATM machine; but allowing much more functionalities similar to that of a mini-bank branch, providing numerous financial related value added services such as the money transfer, bill payments, public identity, micro credit, online business solutions and much more.
At a higher level, customers may be able to approach an agent and through the agent apply for loan. It is not the Agent that will give the loan, but he will be able to collect the loan applications and forward them to the bank.
It is the bank, however, that processes the application and sends it back to the customer through the agent. In other words, the customer on coming back to the Agent will definitely receive the bank’s response.
This can speed up the process of accessing loans, particularly as it concerns the low income or petty traders. It is a sure way to deepen the economic growth of the country, among other gains.

Deployment of Agent Banks  
Agent banking in Nigeria, we must understand, is guided by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). What everybody involved in the process is gearing up and engaging with the CBN to ensure that the details are properly sorted out.
The CBN has finally given the “Go” order, so as at today, authorised financial institutions can appoint agents and simply submit the details of that agent the CBN to commence business at that location.    
Aside Nigeria, of course, there are other countries where Agent Banking has worked optimally.
We were recently part of a team including several banks,the Central Bank, the Central Switch, and others to understudy what is happening in Kenya.Other countries like Brazil , India, Peru , Tanzania have also embraced this model of enabling financial inclusion

Oiling the Infrastructure
We are at an advanced stage of infrastructure building, especially the Nigeria Postal Service (NIPOST)agent network support infrastructure is ready for the take-off. keeping in mind that this is a NIPOST project; we are just partnering with them on the project.
One of the most important things that NIPOST has done is that, today, a Postal Agent is not just providing postal services but also financial and citizens’ benefit services. So postal agents are no longer just for postal services.
That change has already been implemented. We have already commenced training of post offices staff.
The initial target is to meet the minimum requirements for Nigeria, which according to the Universal Postal Union (UPU) is 50, 000 post offices.
Presently, there is an audit of the post offices going on in Nigeria.  There are about 1200 directly owned post offices which are those we are working with.
There is an additional 2500 postal agents; currently some of them are either operational, semi-operational or have shut down.
The CBN is trying to ascertain their states-how many of them have requisite infrastructure, staff strength, do they have power supply and other details that will help to access proper investments in the postal network by interested parties.

Ascertaining the Integrity Of Agents  
Once again, we are strictly guided by the Central Bank and the Agent Banking guidelines are there.
The document stipulates who can become an Agent. For example, an Agent must have an on-going business; must have been in operation for at least one year; must be indebted to people and with evidences of financial stability.
The guidelines are there to protect the interest of the public and stakeholders. We are specific about Agent Banking; however, the real focus is to enable financial inclusion.
For us at One Network ,we deal with other financial service providers. We provide services to other companies that need Agents like in Insurance and Telecom companies,  public identity registration projects and other value added service providers.
So, we ascertain the legitimacy of any service provider before their services can be available at any One Network Agent location.

Targets for Rural Areas
Agent Banking is basically targeted at the rural dwellers. They are the people who in the first instance are afraid of walking into the banking hall; so, if is a local setting they can easily go there.
 Remember the Agents are located among them. It is not like these people do not have any money rather they, probably, have phobia of walking into a formal banking setting.
On the other hand, Agent Banking and cashless policy are part of the financial inclusion strategy of the Federal Government.
It is a combination of these platforms that the Central Bank projects that by year 2020 most Nigerians will have access to financial services

Complimentary to the Postal Reform
Actually, what we are doing at One Network is complementary to the on-going Postal Service reform.
In other words, we have aligned our activities under the guidance of the Ministry of Communication Technology and the Central Bank to ensure that it is in line with the agenda in place.
We are not a financial service provider under the scheme, but we provide professional agent management services and implementation support.                 
It remains a NIPOST project; we are just there to provide the nitty-gritty for enabling optimal execution.

Security Challenges
Well, the last time I checked, people still go to the market in those security volatile areas. Generally, insecurity is a reality in our country today, but it has not stopped us from doing business.
It only implies that people need to be more careful but the situation is not going to stop business from taking place.

Benefits of Agent Banking
If we use the Brazilian experience to equate it; they introduced Agent Banking about 10 years ago, as at February 2013 their economy outgrew that of the United Kingdom (UK).
The main reason was the introduction of the Agent Banking, because they were able to grow from 30% of the population being banked to about 80% presently. It has been very successful.
It aided them in capturing many people into their formal economy where they could then grow steadily and speedily.
In the actual fact, Agent banking is one of the fastest ways to achieve the Vision 20:2020. The successful implementation of the Agent Banking will boost the drive for financial inclusion.

Some Challenging Factors
The biggest challenge we are witnessing has been for industry players to understand and adopt the benefits of structured agent sharing . We (Nigerians) have a tendency to want to do things in silos.
The effort of bringing people together and sell the idea of coopeting instead of competing has not been easy.
The way to go is for financial service providers to take advantage of the One Network Cooperative scheme.
Our role is to help the industry players adopt the simpler and faster ways to achieve success.
However, we are encouraged because people are beginning to understand the purpose of One Network is to help the industry grow.
Role of Telecommunications in Agent Banking
Some time ago, someone asked if the Agent Banking has removed the role of the telecom operators from the banking sector.
Essentially, the question stemmed from the network problems we are witnessing in the country. But the truth is that the operators are needed in the process.
Telecom is still the heart of every agent location. One of the criteria is that every location must be well connected. So, the telecom operators have roles to play; first, to make sure that the network is reliable and stable as the Agents need quality service to excel.
The telecom operators can also use One Network  to extend their services. For example, the SIM registration; each teleco is presently separately deploying agent networks for SIM registration, meanwhile all they needed to do is to synchronize the process through one network of agents.
That is how other countries implement their SIM registration. If you walk into a shop, they already have the application in the machine; they sell the card to you, no matter the network and register you immediately.  
The registration goes straight to the database of the particular network. An agent must not carry five machines to register all the networks.
It is one of the things we anticipate in One Network to have integrated relationship so that an Agents will not need to carry multiple  terminals for different service providers.

Targeted Locations
We are largely focused on rural areas.For instance, in some of our pilot locations in Benue State people no longer have to travel hours to do either JAMB registration or withdraw little cash. We see that it is already working.
On the number of targeted locations, the  Central Bank has determined that target could reach 170,000 agent locations. For us, that is also our target.
Even in Kenya with about 40 million population, they now have about 80,000 Agents. Brazil which is closer to Nigeria in terms of population (about 190 million), they have about 170,000 Agents.
We are happy to support the CBN in bring the financial inclusion vision to fruition.


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CBN Pulls Rate Cut Trigger, King Dollar Returns

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By Lukman Otunuga, Senior Research Analyst at FXTM,

In a move that caught investors off-guard this week, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) slashed interest rates by 100 basis points bringing the MPR to 11.5%. Given how inflation has been above target since 2015, rates were expected to remain unchanged for the rest of 2020 and possibly early 2021.

 

The question on the mind of many is whether the rate cut will achieve the desired effect by stimulating consumption and economic growth? Ongoing border closures and disruptions created by COVID-19 have pushed inflation to levels not seen since March 2018 above 13.20% while a drop in the production and price of Oil continues to rub salt into the wound. While looser monetary policy could support growth, it may come at the cost of rising inflation and weaker Naira.

 

Over the past few months, central banks across the globe have deployed unprecedented measures to defend their respective economies against the coronavirus menace. However, fiscal policy has been identified as the sharper tool with governments across the world providing a critical lifeline to keep the wheels of their respective economies rolling.

 

Outside of Nigeria, King Dollar made a return by appreciating against every single G10 currency. In times of uncertainty, everyone wants a juicy piece of the world’s most liquid currency. As coronavirus cases rise in Europe and other parts of the world, the flight to safety is likely to boost appetite for the Dollar. This is bad news for many emerging markets currencies, especially those with high Dollar-denominated debt.

 

On the commodity side, Oil prices remain heavily influenced by demand-side factors and the state of the global economy. Prices are likely to remain stuck around the $40 regions in the near term, especially If another round of possible lockdowns hit Oil demand. Looking at the technicals, WTI Crude is under pressure on the daily charts. If prices are unable to break away from the sticky $40 regions, the next key point of interest remains around $38. A weekly close above $41.50 could pave a path towards $43.


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NCC Arrests Man for Hacking into DSTV System

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Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), has arrested one Mr Aliu Olalekan, for allegedly hacking into DSTV system and watching the channels free without subscription.

NCC Arrests Man for Hacking into DSTV System

Mr Matthew Ojo, NCC Director in the Lagos Directorate Office said this while speaking with newsmen in Lagos, on Tuesday.

He said that the suspect used to watch DSTV channels free without subscription on his Android phone via an app which he downloaded on google play store.

“This suspect distributed the know-how to his telegram followers and on his blog with the aim of gaining more followers and viewership on his blog and makes more money through google ad-sense.

“The operation was based on surveillance which had earlier been carried out by the Multi-choice team and verified by a copyright inspector, ” he said.

He added that the arrest was made in collaboration with a team of copyright inspectors led by the Head of Enforcement Department, Mr Charles Amudipe.

Others included; a team from Multichoice Nigeria led by Mr Umar Ibrahim and policemen from Lagos Command Headquarters, Ikeja.

Ojo said that the joint team conducted an anti-piracy operation at the premises of the culprit in Amukoko, Lagos.

According to him, the suspect was contacted on phone by a member of the operation team on the disguise of patronising him. “The suspect came out to meet the caller and in the process of discussion, he was apprehended.

“The suspect took the team to his resident. The squad paraded his one-room apartment and recovered his laptop and phones used in perpetrating the ungodly act. “He was arrested and brought to the copyright commission office for further investigation, ” he said.

Ojo said that, on getting to the commission’s office, the statement of the suspect was taken and the inventory of items seized from him taken. He said that investigation on the matter was still ongoing and if found guilty the suspect will be charged to court.

 


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NCC, Digital Encode Support NITRA Innovative Tech Forum On Post-COVID-19 Strategies

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The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria’s telecommunications regulator and Digital Encode, Cybersecurity and Compliance advisory company, have indicated interest to partner with the Nigeria Information Technology Reporters Association (NITRA), the national umbrella body of ICT reporters, as it organizes a forum that will x-ray the industry’s future plans for ICT growth post pandemic era.

 

The event, slated to hold on October 15, 2020, will seek to discuss the needs for a fortified ICT sector after the COVID-19 era, and the level of preparedness of ICT stakeholders to embrace the challenge of being pivotal to the stability and growth of all other sectors.

 

A statement from NITRA National Secretariat in Lagos indicates that due to the pandemic and need to observe the COVID-19 protocol on social distancing, the event will be held via a Webinar.

 

This year’s theme, “Multi-stakeholder Approach To National Recovery Post-Pandemic”, is in line with the annual event’s generic theme, ‘NITRA Innovative Tech Forum’, a contribution by NITRA to the development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) innovations and policies in Nigeria.

 

Prof. Umar Danbatta, executive vice chairman, NCC is expected to deliver the keynote speech at the event and will throw more light on Federal Government’s plans, programmes and policies on post-pandemic strategies using ICT.

 

Dr. Adewale Obadare and Dr. Seyi Akindeinde, founders of Digital Encode, while accepting to support the event expressed their readiness to offer their expertise in Cybersecurity for organisations to prepare against cyber- attacks with the new normal.

 

They will also highlight areas that are high risks that need fortification in terms of cybersecurity.

 

Speaking on the event, Mr. Chike Onwuegbuchi, national chairman, NITRA, noted that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to leave its negative trails across the globe, economic reboot for countries will not only depend on how well they readapt to the new normal, but also more on their recovery plans.

 

According to him: “While the federal government has consistently expressed its willingness to set all policies in place to engender growth, and accelerated implementation of these policies, private sector firms have also shown great hunger for the task ahead in post-COVID-19 era.

 

However, the question that needs to be answered is whether all stakeholders are ready for the required task ahead.”

 

The event will also offer participating companies opportunities to publicize some of their individual efforts at contributing to reacting a soft landing or lifeline for SMEs and other ancillary companies as the pandemic threatens their survival.

 

Digital Encode is a multi-award winning and leading consulting and integration firm that specializes in the design, management, and security of business-critical networks, telecommunications environments and other Information Technology (IT) infrastructures.

 


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