The Managing Director, Ecobank Nigeria, Patrick Akinwuntan has advocated a closer collaboration between banks, Telcos, Fintechs and industry regulators to enhance savings and lending in the financial landscape.
This development according to him will generate activities in the economy and expand wealth creation.
Akinwuntan who was speaking at the ‘Fintech in Nigeria: State of Play’ event based on the research and moderation of the Economist Intelligence Unit, stated that the Fintech industry is currently more active in payments as against wealth creation, which is the ultimate goal for financial inclusion.
He noted that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been proactive in providing a regulatory environment for the collaboration of players with emphasis on customer protection which has improved customers’ trust in using digital channels.
Mr Akinwuntan who commended the role fintechs play in facilitating payment, said “there is need to deepen their presence in lending and savings. This is why I maintained that collaboration between Fintech and banks is valuable. We are not at the stage of competition yet; we are at a situation where although we have our profitability interests, we will actually gain much more by collaborating”.
He added that “in the area of savings and lending, be it to the agriculture sector, the creative sector or the young graduates setting out to be entrepreneurs directly, the ability to save even in little bits creates a profile that would be able to attract lending that you can translate into economic value.
Specifically, the Ecobank Managing Director stated that the Fintech industry rose to the situation especially in the payment space and increasingly in lending and savings during the Covid 19 pandemic lockdown in the country.
He noted that “between March and April, the number of transactions in the payment space for Fintech grew in multiples of close to 800%. We saw significant participation of the Fintech industry in actually reaching more of the underserved in the market by reducing cost of access and making these services available all the time ether by using traditional banks or in collaboration with government agencies.”
Mr. Akinwuntan explained that Ecobank had uninterrupted banking services for its customers through its digital platforms and agency banking during the lockdown, “we had invested significantly in our digital platforms; given the nature of Ecobank as a pan African institution, the only way we could reach every household was to leverage the digital platform. We saw a marked growth in the number of digital based transactions as our customers continued in their way of life depending on these platforms. And most importantly is the use of our social media to drive advocacy with the stay safe campaign where we educated the masses on safety guidelines. We were ready for the situation giving the nature of our franchise. And with our agency banking push, people do not need to go beyond their neighborhood to do transaction.”
Also speaking, Director, Payment System Management, CBN, Musa Jimoh said the apex bank’s regulation is driven by innovation. “We have come up with regulations that will enable all the participants to behave symbiotically. Our payment system directive will be driven by the innovation in the banks. We don’t know what will happen in the future in terms of technological development, therefore we follow innovations and prepare a ground for all the participants to work symbiotically. A new innovation is studied before we provide the needed intervention in terms policy derivative that will help everybody to participate”.
He observed that Covid 19 lockdown provided opportunity for banks to sell digital products, test their back up and business continuity processes and explore the technological services available and push for their financial services, noting that CBN is backing up these areas with relevant regulations to ensure all the participants with the payment and financial service space can actually conduct their service responsibly.
On priorities in the regulatory space especially those championing Fintech, Jimoh said the apex bank currently operates both sandbox and the open bank regulation. “the sandbox provides a regulated environment for startups who don’t have the financial strength to take an authorization from CBN to go through the entire process of licensing to test their innovation. We are working hard to show case an environment where startups can come to the regulatory sandbox to test their innovation and services without having the license yet,” adding that “Open banking regulation is a principle that will allow third party to leverage on the existing bank accounts with the banks to get information and provide services. More like democratizing financial services where a person chooses the service provider that will provide services and the kind of services provided. As a Fintech, you will be able to connect to banks to provide value added services.”
Fintech in Nigeria: State of Play: is an Economist Intelligence Unit Research which examines key trends in the fintech sector in Nigeria and assesses both industry drivers and impediments to further growth. This report combines extensive desk research and insights from in-depth interviews with industry experts and executives at regulatory bodies and Fintech firms. Key findings of the report showed that Nigerian Fintechs are moving firm payments into lending, micro-investment, wealth management, peer-to-peer transfers and insurance.
Secondly, Nigeria’s regulatory environment balances innovation and consumer protection but must continually evolve to respond to market dynamics and lastly, Nigerian Fintech needs to address shortcomings in the broader ecosystem to develop and flourish.