Nigeria’s premier bank and leading financial inclusion services provider, FirstBank Nigeria Limited , has committed itself to the actualization of the financial inclusion policy of the Federal Government through its local agent banks scattered across the country, according to a recent investigations by the Oracle News.
FirstBank’s financial inclusion initiative harmonises with Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) policy of ensuring the availability of affordable financial products and services to all individuals and groups of people in the country; irrespective of location, literacy levels, familiarity with technology and accessibility to modern infrastructural facilities.
Currently, the bank has over 150,000 Firstmonie Agents spread across the 774 local government areas in the country with the mission of accomplishing the CBN objective of ensuring financial inclusion of all Nigerians in the cities, rural and remote areas of the country.
Recall that CBN had in 2013 decided to promote a complementary channel to reach the poor segment of the Nigerian society as well as existing bank customers with a range of financial services especially to geographically dispersed locations.
As part of the process to achieving this noble objective, the apex bank unveiled a National Financial Inclusion Strategy to reduce the percentage of Nigerians that are excluded from financial services from 46.3% in 2010 to 20% by 2020.The goal is to ensure that the number of Nigerians included in the formal sector increased from 36.3% in 2010 to 70% by 2020.
The strategy defines financial inclusion as being achieved “when adults in Nigeria have access to a broad range of formal financial services that are affordable, meet their needs and are provided at an affordable cost”. The strategy set overall targets and specific targets for products, channels and enablers
Agency banking (or Agent Bank) means providing limited scale banking and financial services to the underserved population through engaged agents under a valid agency agreement, rather than a teller/ cashier. It is the owner of an outlet who conducts banking transactions on behalf of a deposit bank. Globally, these retailers are being increasingly utilised as important distribution channels for financial inclusion
In First Bank Limited, agency bank called Firstmonie Agent enables customers in unbanked or underbanked regions to process financial requests through registered agents and existing businesses.
Launched in 2018, the Firstmonie Agent channel is among the bank’s many initiatives to expand financial access in the country. The Agents are owners of small businesses within communities with limited or no banking penetration, who have been enlisted on the FirstBank network which cuts across all 36 states in the country.
After an initial impressive six-month pilot that ended in December 2017,Firstmonie Agent Banking scheme was extended nationwide in January, 2018. Within six months of its launch, the scheme has made appreciable progress with a pervasive network spread across every state, and almost every local government area nationwide (over 98% coverage)
According to Oracle News investigations, FirstBank is doing exactly that through its Firstmonie Agents. During our investigations, it was observed that the Firstmonie Agent scheme of the bank supports various types of transactions, such as voucher-less prepaid top-up, top-up prepaid voucher sale, loan repayments, account balance queries, merchant’s services, cash withdrawals, cash deposits, transfers and bill payments of various types, such as fines, taxes, government fees, utility bills and more.
First Bank Limited Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, in a statement, recently, shaded more light on this when he said that Firstmonie Agent network is “a bespoke channel through which the Bank expresses its unalloyed commitment and passion to promote opportunities and access to financial services by every Nigerian, especially within the low-income segment.”
Adeduntan explained that with the initiative, the gap between the tech savvy and the low literacy clients has been breached as Firstmonie agent network represents the convenient and comfortable alternative for customers that are unacquainted with sophisticated digital channels.
“With its location in every neighbourhood, Firstmonie Agents have been integral to filling the financial exclusion gap, providing convenient banking services that are easily accessible, thereby saving time and travel costs for individuals in the suburbs and remote environments that have no access to financial services, Adeduntan said in the statement.
In furtherance of the need to promote the business activities of its foremost agent banking platform, the bank announced the provision of loan facilities of up to N1000 ,000 to its banking agents. Also,barely a year after the launch, the bank economically empowered its Firstmonie agents with the sum of N100 billion to grow their businesses.
The essence of this is to make them be at an advantage of contributing meaningfully to growth and the national development. Essentially, as Oracle News gathered, the scheme was created to put Firstmonie agents at an advantage to positively impact their immediate environment.
Group Executive of the bank in charge of e-Business & Retail Products, Chuma Ezirim, was recently quoted as saying that “the roles played by our Firstmonie Agents in promoting businesses across the nooks and crannies of the country cannot be overemphasised as they have continued to set the pace in extending financial inclusion to communities with little or no access to financial services.”
Continuing, Ezirim said “With our Firstmonie Agents in every neighbourhood, several communities have witnessed a surge in business and financial activities, which is contributory to national growth and development. We commend our Agents and are delighted to support them with credit facilities, which they can access 24hours a day in less than 2minutes,” he said last year while appreciating the work done by the agents.
The bank is very excited about the tremendous impact of the agent credit on the performance of our Firstmonie agents nationwide. “Since the introduction of the agent credit to support our ‘Human ATMs’ as we fondly call our Firstmonie agents, they have recorded immense growth in their businesses, at levels they never envisaged in such a short period, Ezirim said , adding “our key goal is to continue to deliver financial services to the underserved and unbanked population , employing modern technology for processing of real time transactions.
“In doing so, we contribute to building capacities and learning new skills in information technology, cash management and relationship management for our Firstmonie agents.
“We encourage our Firstmonie agents to keep being exemplary in setting the pace to promote financial inclusion as we collectively work toward the continuous growth and development of the national economy,” he said.
Oracle News also gathered that FirstBank has been rewarding leading Firstmonie agents that have been promoting financial inclusion in the country. This, Oracle News learned is done on annual basis. For instance, at one of its Firstmonie Agent Banking Awards, recently, 31 agents won the sum of N250, 000 each at the state level while five agents won the sum of N1, 000,000 at the regional level. At the national level, the grand prize of N2.5 million was won by an agent from Abuja. When the bank held the maiden edition of its “Firstmonie Agent Awards” top performing Firstmonie agents across the states were rewarded with a handful of over N15 million.
Firstmonie Agent Banking is well aligned with the overall business goals of FirstBank to promote financial inclusion and diversity. With over 647million transactions worth over N13.66 trillion processed by over 150,000 FirstMonie agents, financial inclusion has remained top focus for FirstBank and an important driver of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for better impact.
This is further evidenced in the fact that about 31,000 of over 150,000 FirstMonie agents are women, demonstrating the bank’s continued commitment to women empowerment and an equal opportunity employer.
This laudable initiative by FirstBank is another way to bank without having to visit a bank. This allows one to make cash deposits, transfer money to any bank and enjoy other banking services like bills payment and purchase of recharge cards amongst others.
First Bank of Nigeria Limited is without a doubt, leading the effort at supporting the Federal Government’s objectives to deepen access to financial services through its unique channel designed to bridge the financial divide.
The bank , through its Financial inclusion drive, is making a very impressive impact on job creation, women and youth empowerment, and entrepreneurship development which are fundamental pillars of overall economic development.