THE Central Bank of Nigeria (‘CBN’) has granted Airtel Mobile Commerce Nigeria Ltd, a subsidiary of Airtel Africa, a full super-agent licence.
This licence, according to the telecommunications giant, allows it to create an agency network servicing the customers of licensed Nigerian banks, payment service banks and licensed mobile money operators in Nigeria.
This final approval followed an earlier approval-in-principle given by the apex bank back in November 2021, the telco explained in a notification to Nigerian Exchange Group (NGX).
“Further to our announcement of 15 November 2021, Airtel Africa, a leading provider of telecommunications and mobile money services, with presence in 14 countries across Africa, today confirms that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has awarded its subsidiary, Airtel Mobile Commerce Nigeria Ltd, with a full super agent licence.
“The licence allows us to create an agency network that can service the customers of licensed Nigerian banks, payment service banks and licensed mobile money operators in Nigeria,” the statement, signed by its Group Company Secretary, Simon O’Hara read.
Airtel’s approval to operate a super agent licence is coming two weeks after the apex bank granted MTN Nigeria a final approval to operate a Payment Service Bank (PSB).
MTN’s PSB is known as Momo Payment Service Bank Limited (Momo PSB).
According to Mondaq, a content aggregator service provider focusing on finance, a super agent is a corporately licensed entity that is empowered to conduct certain banking activities within the community.
Super agents and PSBs have one major goal, which involves financial inclusion, especially for the unbanked in Nigeria. Already 38 million adults were completely financially excluded at the end of 2020, according to figures from Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access, tagged ‘New data from EFInA.‘
“Although financial inclusion has grown in the past decade, Nigeria fell short of the National Financial Inclusion Strategy targets for 2020. The country had aimed to reach 70% per cent of Nigerians with formal financial services by 2020. The actual figure was 51%.
“The overall financial inclusion target was 80 per cent by 2020. EFInA data shows that only 64% of Nigerian adults were financially included by the end of 2020. This means that 36% of Nigerian adults, or 38 million adults, remain completely financially excluded.”
Experts who spoke with The ICIR believed this new move by the CBN would help to bank the unbanked and stir the necessary competition among financial technology companies (FinTechs), banks and PSBs.
The West Africa Tax Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Taiwo Oyedele, cited the case of a mobile phone-based money transfer service, M-Pesa, an initiative widely accepted in East Africa, and lauded the government’s efforts to deepen financial inclusion.
Oyedele said, “If you think about East Africa, particularly, Kenya, they have M-Pesa that is effective and widely used and it was pioneered by a telecom company. I think the space is big enough for everyone to play because if we are protective, we may never grow. At the end of the day, the benefit of competition should be for a better society.”
A financial analyst and professor of Economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Sheriffdeen Tella, was of the opinion that the era of PSBs would encourage competition.
Tella said, “Competition brings about improvement in quality and drives down prices. When MTN was the only telecom operator, the price was high until other competitors came in.”
Oyedele advocated more ways to deepen inclusion. These includes a mobile paying system that may not need a smartphone and can use any kind of phone – low end or high end. He stressed the importance of a simple, affordable and accessible payment solution for Nigerians.