A pilot scheme to bring mobile banking and payments services to Nigeria has signed up over 6,000 people, indicating the huge potential for mobile financial services in the west African republic.
Monitise, the British technology company behind the pilot, has built a network of 160 agents in four cities across Nigeria delivering services to 6,700 people since launching the pilot in March.
The success of the scheme is proof of the massive appetite for mobile banking and payments in Nigeria, particularly among the unbanked population and in rural areas where physical banking infrastructure is undeveloped – and the potential it has to help economic development.
Monitise Africa Managing Director Prateek Shrivastava said: "Our pilot has exceeded expectations since we launched, with a network of staff in corner shops, news-stands and market place kiosks helping Nigerians deposit cash and cheques, send money to each other and withdraw funds without the need for a bank account, but simply by using a mobile phone.
"Bringing people into the banking system through mobile financial services can make a huge difference to both individuals and families' lives."
Mr Shrivastava continued: "There are 90 million adults in Nigeria but only about 20 million have access to financial services – but there are more than 100 million mobile phone subscribers. This is why the mobile is such a vitally important channel to reach out to a large population with trusted and secure bank-grade financial services."
The Monitise pilot is operating in the four cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Ibadan. The company was awarded a provisional license to operate a mobile payments service by the Central Bank of Nigeria in December 2010 and a decision about granting a full licence is expected shortly.
"Globally, around 5.3 billion people have a mobile but only 2.2 billion have a bank account," Mr Shrivastava continued, "This underscores why in many markets mobile is becoming the first way for people to interact with financial services. He added: "In Nigeria, this gap between the banked and unbanked is so much wider."
Monitise Ch Chief Executive Alastair Lukies said: "Mobile technology reaches parts of society that have historically been excluded from infrastructure that we take for granted in the UK. It is a hugely exciting time to be doing business in Africa."
Shrivastava and Lukies were speaking in Lagos, Nigeria, as part of a British trade delegation to the country. Mr Lukies was one of 25 British business leaders accompanying British Prime Minister David Cameron, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and trade and investment minister Lord Green to Nigeria and South Africa on a trade mission to pursue new business opportunities between both countries.
Monitise and its local partners are helping to build an interoperable shared services technology platform to lay the infrastructure for mobile banking, payments and commerce in Nigeria. This will help bring a greater choice across financial services to the banked and unbanked via the mobile phone.
"The cost of building a single bank branch in Nigeria is around US$300,000 and approximately $500,000 per year to run. The number of people who qualify for a bank account does not justify the building of bank branches across the country," Mr Shrivastava said.
"Mobile banking and payments will increase the speed with which commerce is conducted in Nigeria whilst increasing transparency of the economy. Due to this, financial service providers will have to adapt to customers' changed behaviour by either defending their role in the payments industry or extending their current position.
"We are delighted to be using our technology and proven partnership approach to help shape the industry and widen financial inclusion across the most populous country in Africa," Shrivastava said.
Monitise has been supported by the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), which has provided grant funding to assist in the launch of its mobile banking and payments service.