Before the Nigerian financial sector underwent a significant transformation, banks were seen as exclusive spaces for a select portion of the population – places where high-earning individuals were the only ones entitled to world-class banking products and services. This misconception left a large part of the population unbanked and unable to benefit from essential financial services.

Digital technology has proven to be a highly effective tool in changing this narrative, driving a change in operating and business models, improving platforms for innovation and creating immense opportunities for monetisation. The technology landscape continues to change through the never-ending rollout of faster, more accessible networks, impacting every component of service delivery – especially in the banking industry.

Mobile money has been one of the most revolutionary technologies launched in Africa in recent years

The Nigerian Communications Commission reported that there were approximately 172 million phone subscribers in the country in 2018, which means that 90 percent of citizens can execute transactions on their phones. There is little excuse, then, for Nigeria’s low level of financial inclusion – just three in 10 Nigerian adults have a bank account, according to Kantar.

Access Bank has always found innovative ways of using mobile technology to reach the unbanked. For example, its popular Unstructured Supplementary Service Data code, *901#, makes it possible for anyone, anywhere, to access financial services using their mobile phone. If Nigeria is to achieve its targeted financial inclusion rate of 80 percent by the end of this year, more solutions like this will need to be launched.

Phone credit
Mobile money has been one of the most revolutionary technologies launched in Africa in recent years. M-Pesa, a mobile money transfer and financing service, went viral in Kenya following its launch in 2007 – due, in large part, to its customer-centric model – and there are hopes that similar solutions can prove popular elsewhere.

In Nigeria, government policies are now catching up with the consumer shift towards financial technology. This has broken down barriers for financial institutions and is enabling faster, more effective communications between customers and banks. Access Bank has launched Access Closa as a way of harnessing the digital revolution and forging stronger connections with clients.

The Access Closa initiative creates ‘micro branches’ across the country in the form of booths placed in local neighbourhoods. Like mobile money offerings, the initiative aims to make financial services accessible to all. The booths are more approachable than branches, meaning banking agents are more available to customers and can tailor their services to the specific needs of the community in which they operate.

Leading the way
The technology landscape is proving to be vast and beneficial for the Nigerian economy. Digital innovation helps find solutions to many issues and has a positive ripple effect across various sectors. Access Bank has invested heavily in leading this evolution, forming a partnership with the Africa Fintech Foundry (AFF) to nurture the next generation of cutting-edge financial firms.

As a pan-African accelerator, the AFF is designed to find and invest in start-ups that adopt a global outlook while still focusing on Africa. Earlier this year, it organised the AFF Disrupt Conference, bringing together more than 10,000 technology leaders, enthusiasts, innovators and investors in the hope of ‘building a sustainable tech economy’.

The event provided an opportunity for networking, knowledge sharing, presentations and pitches, with one start-up being awarded a cash prize of $10,000. Such conferences give technology start-ups a platform to connect with their peers and potential investors in both the financial and technology spaces.

Access Bank aims to harness the very best that Nigeria has to offer and shape the country into a leading nation

As a leader within the Nigerian banking industry, Access Bank has fully embraced digital technology, principally to propel its sustainability targets. An exciting initiative is the portal for CO2 management, which was developed to monitor the bank’s environmental footprint, especially its carbon emissions.

Furthermore, we have digitalised the bank’s back-office processes and functions through the deployment of a business process management solution and we have adopted enterprise resource planning software as part of our efforts to become a 100 percent paperless organisation. Currently, more than 89 processes have been automated, with more on track to be implemented in the coming years.

Changing the narrative
For many years, much of the reporting on Africa has been devoid of understanding, leading to widespread misinformation. Such conversations, which appeared almost malicious, became so loud and pervasive that both Africans and non-Africans nearly believed that Africa was indeed a dark and hopeless continent. The situation worsened until strong, influential African voices began speaking up, ending the vicious cycle and making others see the good in Africa and, more importantly, reminding us of our true identity.

Access Bank chooses to celebrate the many successes coming out of the continent, defying the negative stereotypes and nurturing the indomitable spirit of Africans. The aim is to harness the very best that Nigeria has to offer and shape the country into a leading nation that fills its citizens with pride. We all want to see improvement, so we must work together to change the narrative.

An exciting and useful field is the work to improve financial inclusion in Nigeria. As the digital landscape evolves, we believe that more Nigerians will be brought into the fold, gaining access to more financial services without limitations.

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