By Chinenye Anuforo, Lagos
The African Development Bank’s (ADB) initiative, the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility (ADFI), and Y’ello Digital Financial Services (YDFS), the fintech subsidiary of 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 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.
Despite being the continent’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 the adoption of digital financial services. The Central Bank of Nigeria has, in recent years, been working to create a more conducive environment for the adoption of digital financial services.
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. A recipient of the new licenses, MTN Nigeria, through its fintech subsidiary, YDFS, is seeking to strengthen its super-agent network in the northern part of the country, with a 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.
The grant from the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility (ADFI) enables Y’ello Digital Financial Services to acquire insight into exclusion as a result of the 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.
‘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 to help reduce poverty and inequality, particularly relating to gender,’ said Stefan Nalletamby, Director of the Financial Sector Development Department at the African Development Bank Group.
‘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.
‘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,’ says Sheila Okiro, ADFI Coordinator.
‘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,’ said Usoro Usoro, Chief Executive Officer, Y’ello Digital Financial Services.