The African Development Bank (AfDB), and MTN Nigeria, have signed an agreement for a $500,000 grant initiative to determine the feasibility of deploying women agents in the northern part of Nigeria where, due to security issues and cultural norms, women have been disproportionately excluded from accessing finance.
The grant, which is being executed under the Bank’s, the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility (ADFI), MTN’s Y’ello Digital Financial Services (YDFS), its fintech subsidiary, will cover a feasibility study, human-centred design of a women-centric agent network and a pre-pilot to test the impact on the uptake of financial services by women in the Northern region.
Under the terms, ADFI grant will enable YDFS to acquire insight into exclusion as a result of gender gap from a feasibility study and a human-centric design journey to attract more women into the agent business. Plans are for YDFS to use this insight to expand its existing super-agent network in northern Nigeria.
In a joint statement, the promoters noted that despite being Africa’s largest economy, access to financial services in Nigeria is still a challenge for millions of people, particularly in rural areas, where an estimated 55% of the total population are unbanked.
Mobile money adoption currently stands at 4%, with an agent ratio of 228.8 agents per 1,000 adults.
A strong agent banking network forms the backbone for adoption of digital financial services. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has, in recent years, been working to create a more conducive environment for the adoption of digital financial services.
We are truly excited about this partnership with AFDB and the possibilities for advancing financial inclusion in Nigeria, particularly for the traditionally excluded segment of women in Northern Nigeria.
One such effort involved a licensing regime for super-agents that opened the provision of agency banking services to select non-bank financial service providers. As a recipient of the new licence, MTN’s YDFS, is seeking to strengthen its super-agent network in the northern part of Nigeria, with particular focus on women’s access to finance.
Recognising the pivotal role of agency banking in women’s adoption of digital financial services and the prevalent social norms which limit their ability to make transactions with male agents, hindering their uptake and usage of services, YDFS seeks to innovate around its agency banking network to facilitate gender inclusion.
Considering that most agents are male (80%), there is growing evidence that increasing the number of women agents could attract more female clients due to social norms and safety concerns that women may have about interacting with male agents .
Commenting, Director, Financial Sector Development Department, AfDB, said: Stefan Nalletamby, “The African Development Bank, through the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility (ADFI), is delighted to support this project, furthering our work to improve the quality of life for people in Africa and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help reduce poverty and inequality, particularly relating to gender. This grant funding will be used not only to broaden women’s access to finance in Nigeria, but also to provide an avenue for their increased economic empowerment.”
Similarly, ADFI Coordinator, Sheila Okiro, said: “This project was selected from nearly 340 proposals sent in response to ADFI’s call to support financial inclusion in Africa using digital technology. ADFI was looking for innovative thinking that is intentional in addressing the persistent financial inclusion gender gap on the continent. “Despite being the backbone of their families and communities, women in Africa remain the most excluded in the world from the finance sector and the mechanisms it offers to help build economic resilience. Through this project YDFS is poised to help bridge the gap in Nigeria.”
On his part, Chief Executive Officer, YDFS, Usoro Usoro, said: “We are committed to ensuring that every Nigerian can seamlessly access financial services for their personal and business needs. To achieve this, we constantly seek partnerships to support the financial inclusion strategy of the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria. We are truly excited about this partnership with AFDB and the possibilities for advancing financial inclusion in Nigeria, particularly for the traditionally excluded segment of women in Northern Nigeria.”