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Sustaining Financial Inclusion Through Viable Agent Network

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By Fasasi Sarafadeen Atanda

As it is today, financial inclusion is stakeholders’ slogan; the awareness has been created Agents are everywhere, but there is a threat and that threat is agent viability. There is no doubt about it all the stakeholders, such the banks, the MNO, MMO have realized that agents play very key role in delivering digital financial services.

If you look at all the strategies of the mobile network operators, mobile money operators and the banks you will find aggregators that show that agents are key in delivering strategy.

If agents are key how then do we make agents viable? My experience has shown that we have high rate of agents’ turnover as a major challenge at the same time provider performance instability as also a major issue. So, we have two major issues that will help to sustain financial inclusion.

Agents’ turnover rate is too high and also the providers or principal, their performance is also not stable. What I mean by that is, on the agents part of turnover, my visit to the field confirmed that the agents that the providers have invested in training, marketing, on boarding in the last three years, greater percentage of them are no longer in business.

That is a waste of resources. They now have new agents that they need to also train and brand again.

I am sure in the next one year if you visit those locations you will find a new sets of agents. In this situation, we are turning over experiences which are not going to lead into sustainability.

What are those things that are responsible for this? First is general skill-set or capacity. What we have is individual provider training agents which is good, if you are agents of Paga, Paga will train you; if you are agents of Opay, Opay will train you.

If you look at the content of the training it is specific to their platform, it is about how to transact on their platform, dispute resolution on their platform, and it is really not about profitability and knowledge of the business.

Actually, viability of agents is determined by making agency banking or agent network a business and not as a service. They don’t train agents on how they will be productive or cost analysis structure.

Training of agents should be handled by a neutral body or training consultants, to be able to deliver cost benefit training on the agents. Even if you are agents of operator A or agents of operator B you will be trained on how to cover your cost as well as how to remain in business.

As at today, SANEF has been playing that role; we want them to do more, they are in the best position to provider general knowledge in training of agents.

Secondly, is what I called platform quality; here we have mobile App platform, and POS Channel platform. This is a major factor responsible for agents’ turnover, by the time you rout transaction through a platform that has not been tested and certified good, you run into trouble and lose your money, this makes agents to be discouraged in the business and before you know it they will close shop.

For instance, if you are transacting with N100,000 capital and you find yourself transacting on a particular provider’s platform of inferior quality because of lack of security. We need to find out if such platforms are secured and feasible. Can you see the money you put in and the money going out? That is transaction history.

Again, what is the time of resolution of dispute and the channel of dispute resolution? Who is supervising this? We need to start certifying any transaction platform that will be used by agents. This has to do with involving stakeholders that have been able to work with all the platforms.

Thirdly is the support system, we have seen a situation where the principal for example, a bank with an agent network. The agent will come to a bank and won’t have a fair treatment in terms of say I want to quickly get cash and go back to location, No. Banks don’t see their agents as agents they want them to go and queue up in line like other customers. This discourages agents as they will spend the whole day in the bank.

This is contrary to what obtains in some Asian and South American countries where financial inclusion is flying, in those environments, the principals are supporting the agents. In Brazil, a bank opens a ‘Till account’ for the agents with a limit, as agents are transacting they don’t need to be looking for money up and down, they are transacting from the ‘Till account’ a sort of an advance. But, here there is no support from the principals.

Multiple taxes: Local government and state government are coming to agent location for one levy or the other. You can’t imagine State government revenue agents are coming, LCDA and LGA agents are coming to a single kiosk. It is worst these days as local government are looking for revenue everywhere, they have now printed a special receipt they called permit for POS.

It is important we borrow a leaf from countries like Uganda and Tanzania where there is a direct statement from central bank of those countries that certain categories of financial inclusion at the level of agents are excluded from these obnoxious taxes. I have closed about three locations in Niger State, five in Kaduna because every day local government harass us for one levy or the other.

On provider performance instability: If you check the statistics, the top five providers MMO, MNO in the past five years, they are not among the top ten today. Why?

A provider that can boast of 70,000 to 100,000 agents today they have crashed to 5,000 some are struggling for 2,000 agents. We need to find out why agents are closing shops.

Among the reasons are: 1. Most of them roll out without pilot even when they are doing pilot it is done within their office and they won’t get agents in the field involved for a proper product design feedback in order to know what the market requires.

I have witnessed a provider that rolled out agency platform believing that they are everywhere, unfortunately when they rolled out we discovered that their platform lack feasibility no agent history. You can’t view your transaction history. You don’t have feasibility into your transaction and they have spent so much money and can’t recall it again, imagine investment that has gone the drained. Today, they are not among the first ten providers because they have lost so much money.

Also in the strategy, I have checked through a lot of providers’ strategy across the channels; the MMO, MNO and the Banks led, I discovered that they don’t engage the practitioners before they design their strategy and their strategies have always be the same.

If you look at commission structure and on boarding processes, they are all the same, so the mistake of one is been repeated in the other. Strategy of agency banking is not cast in stone you have to look at what is obtainable in the market. These are some of the causes of the downfall of most of the providers.

Also the feedback channel, most of them don’t want to listen to feedback. I have seen providers’ WhatApp group platform where they are the only one authorised to give out information, agents cannot comment. This is funny. On their platform, they will add you as their agent but you cannot write anything there. It is only for passing of information to agents. How would they know what is happening in the market, how would they listen to complains? How would they get feedback to improve on their system?

More so, their objective is more of ‘Profit-centric’, in one year you want to recoup your investment, because of this that they give unrealistic targets to their staff, “On board” “On board” before you know it, they on board nonsense for them and as they are on boarding, people are disembodying.

The most successful financial inclusion organisation in Africa is Mpesa in Kenya. In their first year they did not sell any product, they only registered 400 agents compared to providers in Nigeria where in their first year they want to hit 100,000 agents. Providers in Nigeria should be Customer-centric and not Profit-centric.

They should try as much as possible to make sure that people accept their product and sale value to them if you want to retain them. Agents’ retention is nearly zero in Nigeria that is why you see agents on board today and tomorrow dis-on board.

On dispute resolution channels, today most of the MNO if they want to deploy terminals or retrieve PoS from agents, there are no define guard lines, some of them will lock some of their agents wallet so that they don’t have access to the funds again so that he can come to them and they will collect their terminal.

There should be human face to everything, today there are some MNO that throw in debit to agents account without notification, when you inquire they say it is charges of non-performance. Because you are not using their PoS very well they will debit you for the cost of the PoS. MNOs are behaving as if there are no regulation in the system.

Fasasi Sarafadeen Atanda is chief executive officer of partner de Ecosystem, an agent network management company.


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CIBN Recertifies NDIC Academy as Bankers Training Provider

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Council of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) has recertified the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) Academy as a training service provider for various professionals in the banking industry.

CIBN Recertifies NDIC Academy as Bankers Training Provider

The council also renewed the academy’s accreditation for the next three years, effective from June 2020.

Mr. Saubana Ogunpola, head of the five-man CIBN Accreditation Team, said the recertification followed the exemplary performance of the NDIC Academy since it initial accreditation in 2016 and the satisfaction of the stringent conditions for the recertification.

The recertification, according to Mr. Saubana Ogunpola, Head of the five-man CIBN Accreditation Team, followed the exemplary performance of the NDIC Academy since its initial accreditation in 2016 and the satisfaction of the stringent conditions for the recertification.

He noted that there would be periodic monitoring to ensure that quality standards are being adhered to.

Mr Ogunpola commended the NDIC for its consistent efforts toward meeting the high standards for the benefit of the banking industry and the larger economy.

He described the NDIC’s readiness to subject itself to the rigors of the Institute’s accreditation process as a testimony of its Management’s commitment to capacity development for all stakeholders.

In his reaction, Mr. Umaru Ibrahim, managing director/chief executive, NDIC, described the recertification as another milestone in the NDIC efforts to consolidate the position of the Academy as a center of academic excellence in the nation’s banking industry and on deposit insurance in Africa.

Mr Ibrahim disclosed that the Academy had so far trained a total of 13,368 participants cutting across the NDIC’s workforce.

“It had also trained 135 participants from relevant stakeholders, including the EFCC, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Assets Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), National Pension Commission (PENCOM) and the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).

“On the international front, 19 employees from sister deposit insurance agencies in other African countries had benefitted from the expertise of the Academy,” the managing director noted.

He stated that the NDIC Academy has been designated to host the African Centre for Studies on Deposit Insurance System (ACSDIS) recently established by the Africa Regional Committee (ARC) of the International Association of Deposit Insurance (IADI).

Mr. Ibrahim reiterated that with the recertification, the NDIC Academy is positioned to fulfill the NDIC’s goal of serving as a center of excellence for capacity building on Deposit Insurance Scheme (DIS) for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

He added that the NDIC prides itself on establishing the highest standards of professionalism and competency among its staff through the NDIC Academy and other human capital development initiatives, including the Chartered Banker/MBA program at Bangor University, Wales in partnership with the CIBN.

The NDIC boss emphasized that the Corporation places high premium on capacity building and continuous high level training of its staff to achieve the NDIC mandate of deposit guarantee, bank supervision, bank distress resolution and liquidation.

“The ultimate goal would be to enhance depositor protection and public confidence in the nation’s banking system,” he said.


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Deloitte, Heritage Bank, PWC Urge Internal Auditors to Embrace IT to Tackle Fraud

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Deloite, Heritage Bank Plc and PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PWC’s) have urged internal auditors of banks to adopt the various digital technologies to prevent fraud and annul the adverse impact of Covid-19 on the financial ecosystem.

Speaking at the just concluded 47th Quarterly Meeting of the Association of Chief Audit Executives of Banks in Nigeria (ACAEBIN), Ifie Sekibo, the MD/CEO of Heritage Bank, disclosed that for improved banking operations and safer financial system for stakeholders, internal auditors must be dynamic and quick to adopt various digital measures.

Raising the alarming impact of fraudulent activities in the banking sector, Sekibo quoted PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PWC’s) Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey 2020, revealing that that the total cost of cybercrimes is worth an eye-watering $42 billion, which was cash taken straight off companies’ bottom line, whilst 13% of those who had experienced  fraud said they had lost $50 million-plus.

Sekibo, who spoke on the theme, “Elevating Internal Audit’s Role in the Face of Emerging Risks and Opportunities” organised virtually and hosted by the Heritage Bank, urged, “While it was sufficient for yesterday’s auditor to understand regular and routine banking practices such as credit, treasury, etc in his traditional assurance role, for him to be relevant in harnessing the opportunities in today’s business world, he must become versed in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data analytics, fraud management, regulatory pronouncements, forensics etc and having equipped himself, present balanced, objective audit reports to Executive Management while striking the right balance between the assurance and consulting responsibilities.”

In her keynote address, titled, “Elevating Internal Audit Role In The Face Of Emerging Risks and Opportunities,” Ibukun Beecroft, Partner Risk Advisory at Deloitte, noted that the banking industry in Nigeria today has adopted various digital measures to keep the business running and delivering services to the customers but there was need for Internal Audit (IA) positioned to provide the required assurance and consulting services in the face of the changes and attendant risk, particularly increased cyber-risks.

Quoting 2018 Financial Stability Report by the Central Bank of Nigeria, she stated that Banks recorded 25,029 confirmed cases of fraud and this resulted in a loss of N2.21 billion. More than 90% of fraud cases in 2018 were perpetrated via technologically driven channels.

“As Internal Auditors, the knowledge of technology would enable us identify gaps in our core banking applications and other applications and provide relevant recommendations to eliminating loopholes that may serve as an avenue for potential fraud.

She, however, advised auditors on the need to focus on advanced technologies and risk management operations as reflected around the Three Lines of Defense (3LOD) churned out by the Institute of Internal Auditors, which create opportunities for IA and its future role.

Beecroft warned that the ever-changing landscape and evolving risks in the banking industry could render the current internal audit plan obsolete.

According to her, internal auditors should reprioritise the audit plan as soon as possible to provide assurance over the most consequential risks while being cognisant of the impact on operations.

“To take advantage of these changes and disruptions, auditors need to rethink their role by adapting to and embracing change, enabling the IA function to become more agile, nimble, and forward-looking, thus driving change through the 3LOD,” Beecroft stated.

Yetunde Oladeji, Director Internal Audit Services at PricewaterhouseCoopers Limited (PWC), who spoke on the theme, “Elevating IA’s role to meet today’s emerging risks,” advised that the banking sector should be dynamic, prioritse digitization and flexibible workforce strategies as these would determine its ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances to survive and thrive.


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ALAT By Wema Bank Upgrades Mobile Banking App

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ALAT by Wema Bank, as an innovative financial institution,  has introduced its upgraded mobile app – ALAT 4.0- to enable customers to remain connected to do much more. A unique app that provides seamless access to an array of exciting features serves as a platform where customers can personalise offerings to meet their frequent financial and lifestyle needs.

ALAT By Wema Bank Upgrades Mobile Banking App

Being a customer-centric financial institution, the upgraded app serves as a one-stop platform that gives customers the option to create unique experiences for themselves; this includes dashboard personalization where customers can decide to hide and unhide their account balance as well as to display the most frequently used feature on their dashboard.

Mr Moruf Oseni, deputy managing director, speaking on the new upgrade expressed his delight, he said “we made a promise earlier this year to improve customer experience by introducing improved unique features to the app. Based on feedback from customers, a lot of effort was put together to ensure we deliver on our promise to ensure this upgrade affords customers a delightful and memorable service experience”.

As part of the new features is the card control option which enables customers to put a limit on their spending habit and the reintroduction of the virtual dollar card which gives customers the ability to make international payments irrespective of the currency.

ALAT has also expanded loan offerings to goal based loans, salary-based lending and device loan. Customers can also top up existing loan amounts, make part payment during the loan cycle at any time and liquidate the loan before the end of the loan cycle at any given time.

Oseni further added, “For us, it is imperative that customers have access to a flexible and seamless user experience on our platform. In introducing exciting features to the app, we ensured that major lifestyle and financial needs can be met through ALAT 4.0. As a bank, we will continue to create innovative solutions for our customers and solidify our lead in digital banking”


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