Coronavirus pandemic spawns Nigeria banking agent boom

NNEKA CHILE and ALEXIS AKWAGYIRAM

WHEN Lagos imposed a lockdown last year, Nigerian civil servant Ruth Oladimeji saw a way to earn extra money. With people unable to visit banks due to the coronavirus pandemic, she became an agent providing local banking services.

Oladimeji signed up with Moniepoint, a mobile money platform on whose behalf she helps customers with services such as opening accounts and withdrawing cash.

“It has increased my standard of living. It has helped me be able to support people financially,” said the mother-of-two, adding that she previously struggled to pay school fees and support elderly relatives on her civil service salary.

Oladimeji has set up six kiosks in her community in just under a year and, in a country where most people live on less than $2 a day, said she earns more than 60,000 naira ($160) every day.

While people can visit banks again, social distancing rules make it a time-consuming business and the local mobile money kiosks are more easily accessible.

Mobile money firms across Africa are ramping up plans to bring banking to millions after the pandemic caused a surge in the use of digital financial services. Firms in Nigeria say they have recruited more agents to meet demand.

Solomon Amadi, vice president of Moniepoint, said the company’s banking agents had increased from 8,000 in 2019 to more than 50,000 in February 2021.

Similarly, Dotun Adekunle, vice president of product engineering at payment platform OPay, said it had nearly 400,000 agents nationwide, up from 290,000 in February 2020.

“The demand increased for financial services. People could not go to the banks. Naturally the agency then also increased,” said Adekunle.

However, a preference for cash is deeply entrenched in Nigeria.

Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA), a research body that monitors financial inclusion in Nigeria, said a survey it conducted in 2018 showed only 3.3% of Nigerian adults reported having mobile money accounts.

But its chief executive officer, Ashley Immanuel, said there had been a “steady increase in digital and mobile financial services” in recent years.

Standing in an orange roadside kiosk featuring a sign with bank logos, Oladimeji’s thoughts have turned to offering more services.

“I see myself developing into a microfinance business … helping people with finance, getting their daily savings,” she said.

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