FirstBank:  Empowering Community Heroes Through Agent Banking

Right from the time the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) incorporated Agent banking as one of the major tools for driving financial inclusion in the country, First Bank of Nigeria Limited has been leading on the initiative. Visualizing the idea beforehand, FirstBank in 2017 embarked on the Agent Banking following CBN’s resolve to promote financial inclusion and launched its official channel, renowned as Firstmonie Agent network.

This unique and bespoke Firstmonie Agent network, serves as a funnel through which the bank expresses its passion and commitment to broadening the opportunities and access to financial services for every Nigerian and African, especially within the low-income segment, known as the unbanked and under-banked population.

According to the EFInA Access to Financial Services 2018 Survey, a clear strategy is needed to target non-bank population in the country to take up mobile money services. The survey reveals further that 60.0 per cent or 59.4 million of the total 99.6 million adult population that are 18 years and above as captured in the country’s demographic, neither have mobile money nor banking account.

For FirstBank, ensuring that the CBN’s financial inclusion initiative scales through is a task that must be achieved. The bank is not resting on its oars but as it has kept emphasizing on the key strengths of its franchise which lies in its ability to detect vacuums in the society, and developing products and services aimed at addressing such gaps.

According to Adesola Adeduntan, FirstBank’s chief executive officer, “the key part of our history and future is about development and economic growth.”

The CEO also noted that as at last count, FirstBank has well over 37,000 Firstmonie Agents spread across 754 of the 774 local government areas in the country. It has processed more than two trillion transactions through the Firstmonie Agents banking, empowered more than 8,000 women.

These Agents form the most critical part of its banking ecosystem, as Gbenga Shobo, the bank’s deputy managing director can tell. Worthy of note is the fact that Firstmonie Agents make deposits and payments, open accounts, provide transfers and sell airtime at different locations with little or no access to financial services.

At present, whether in major cities, urban areas, rural communities, villages or hamlets – in fact across the nooks and crannies of the states – Firstmonie Agents are empowering individuals, businesses, creating jobs and aiding day-to-day economic activities. As part of FirstBank’s value chain, these Firstmonie Agents are helping to encourage the use of electronic transactions for payments of goods and services and bringing people closer to where they can have easy access to finance, among other benefits.

According to the World Bank, promoting financial inclusion “is a key enabler to reducing poverty and boosting prosperity,” just as the original intention of the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) recognizes that financial inclusion is a key driver to helping Nigeria in becoming one of the world’s largest economies.

In addition, the 2018 revised NFIS major goal targets that by 2020, the proportion of adult Nigerians that are financially excluded would have been reduced to 20 per cent from it baseline figure of 46.3 per cent in 2010.

As part of its commitments at driving financial inclusion in the country and empowering agency banking, FirstBank recently held the maiden edition of its “Firstmonie Agent Awards” and top performing Firstmonie agents across the states were rewarded with a handful of over N15 million.

The testimonials that followed the celebration have shown that Firstmonie Agents banking is aiding the rapid growth of agent networks with nationwide reach. It also showed that Firstmonie Agent banking is truly impacting the lives of people.

Stephen Adeleye is a Firstmonie Agent who lives in Aiyetoro, one of the riverine communities spread out along the beaches and swampy terrains of the Atlantic Ocean coast, in Ilaje local government area of Ondo State. Before Adeleye started up as a Firstmonie Agent, economic activities in Aiyetoro community had suffered without the aiding of any financial services. “We don’t have banks here,” Adeleye could lament.

Since becoming one of the Firstmonie Agents, the community is now enjoying the services of the Firstmonie Agent banking. Adeleye testified that the Firstmonie Agent banking has brought a savings culture to the community; it is also helping them to have easy access to finance among other banking services.

“The transaction has really helped my business to grow,” Tina Farodoye, a Firstmonie customer in Aiyetoro community confessed.  According to her, “now I can order for goods from Lagos in bulk by just transferring the money to customers,” and “I am making even higher profits compared to when I was buying those goods with cash within Aiyetoro.”

Aiyetoro is not the only community which has started to enjoy the services of the Firstmonie Agents banking.

Ephraim Osinachi is another Firstmonie Agent who lives in Obehie in Asa Ukwu West of Abia state. The Firstmonie Agents banking is helping both the adults and the aged ones in that community. “We have the aged ones that come to make transactions and unlike the ATM where they go and nobody would assist them, here they come and feel relaxed. It has helped to reduce armed robbery,” Osinachi narrated with excitement.

At Eti-Osa in Lekki Ajah in Lagos state, Aliu Lawal is also another Firstmonie Agent whose story is that he has expanded his initial Computer Training business since becoming a Firstmonie Agent. Lawal can now boast six other Firstmonie Agent locations that he has opened. “During the day, this place is crowded with people who want to do transactions especially in the evening when the banking halls have all closed,” he said.

What about Surajudeen Bada, a Firstmonie Agent in Eleg-Abeokuta in Ogun State? On a good day, he makes well over 200 transactions for customers transferring money, and over 1,000 transactions for customers collecting money.

As touching as these testimonials may seem, FirstBank is committed to providing convenient services that endear trust, provide ease of access to financial services through the Firstmonie Agents banking.

Increasingly, Agents banking is being recognized across the globe among policy makers, researchers and development agencies as a financial inclusion initiative that has remained integral as a tool to develop the nation’s economy, particularly in the areas of poverty reduction, employment generation, wealth creation and improving welfare and general standard of living.

The Firstmonie agents banking is here to create for the future easy access to finance anywhere in Nigeria. The global picture is to look beyond Nigeria.

The FirstBank CEO says, “We believe there is still a lot to be done not just in Nigeria, but also across the African continent. Ghana is of interest and we have started to roll out agency banking there, so also is the Democratic Republic of Congo among others. It is a significant opportunity for us to help Africa to promote financial inclusion and begin to address poverty across the continent.”

The initiative is also helping to close the gap between the tech savvy and the low literacy clients, which has been breached as Firstmonie Agent network represents the convenient and comfortable alternative for customers that are unacquainted with sophisticated digital channels.

Culled from National Accord  

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