If you live in Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt, or you reside in any of the other state capitals, you probably take for granted that you actually live in the better of the two worlds that make up Nigeria when it comes to banking. Take Lagos, for example, you would find a bank in almost any corner you turn. You have many streets in business or commercial areas in the city that are lined up by nothing but banks in all their glory and magnificence. If a count is taken, it could be established that there are probably more bank branches in Lagos than any other branded business outlets or branded activity centres – if street stores and religious centres are excluded.
Many people in city centres somehow assume that this situation of banks being in your face in cities is the same reality that prevails in most parts of the country.
They have no idea that there are parts of Nigeria, especially the hinterland, where people take the absence of banks for granted the same way city dwellers take the preponderance of bank branches for granted.
To get to the nearest bank, people in the hinterland who live this reality every day would have to travel many kilometres to get to their state capitals or some other large towns. These are the people living in the worse of the two worlds you find in Nigeria as far as having bank presence is concerned.
Imagine if the situation were reversed and city dwellers had to travel many kilometres to get to the nearest bank branch where they could do their transactions. It is not unlikely that such a situation would be accompanied by a ballooning of the stress levels in city dwellers, increased road rage on city highways and heightened frustration generally.
How would people who spend multiple hours in traffic on a daily basis, work longer than counterparts elsewhere for far less remuneration, enjoy less sleep on their beds and less time with family and loved ones, cope with the additional burden of walking or driving endlessly in search of a bank to do their transactions? How? Just how?
So city dwellers should indeed be thankful for their world. And while at it, they as well as people in the hinterland, who live in the other world, should not be shy to extend appreciation to those working so hard and tirelessly to bridge the gap between the two worlds in Nigeria. The Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) financial inclusion initiative geared towards bringing the unbanked and underbanked as well as communities in Nigeria’s hinterland into the formal financial ecosystem has been key to efforts to bridge the gap.
The CBN’s mandate to ensure the availability of affordable financial products and services to all individuals and groups of people in Nigeria, regardless of location, literacy level, familiarity with technology or accessibility to modern infrastructural facilities, has been wholly embraced, supported and promoted by FirstBank.
FirstBank’s unmatched commitment to financial inclusion is informed by the bank’s undivided focus on making real impact across Nigeria.
Hear Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, the Chief Executive Officer of the premier bank in West Africa and the leading financial inclusion services provider in Nigeria for over 127 years: “The key strength of our franchise is our ability to look at gaps in the society and develop products and services that [address those gaps].”
Continuing, he notes that as an integral part of the bank’s strategy, “We believe that by significantly working with the Central Bank to improve the financial inclusion index of the country, we would, as FirstBank, be assisting [the] country to address poverty, to address hunger, thereby also promoting security of life and property because when people are gainfully employed, the implication is that they think less of crime.”
It is therefore not surprising that FirstBank has driven the financial inclusion initiative much more vigorously than any other bank in Nigeria, with its Firstmonie Agent channel, which crossed the 100,000 Agents mark a few days ago, being among the bank’s many initiatives to expand financial access in the country. The 100,000 Agents feat in itself speaks volumes about the bank’s strides in the financial inclusion space. No other bank comes anywhere close to FirstBank in terms of number and spread of agents in their agent banking networks. FirstBank’s Firstmonie Agents and the thousands of staff they employ are in all the 774 local government areas in Nigeria save two and, in 2020 alone, processed over 295 million transactions with a total value of N6.65 trillion and opened more than 196,000 accounts.
However, for FirstBank, it is not about number or competition with others or even being the largest bank-led network in Africa, but the impact the Firstmonie Agents channel it is creating, as Dr Adeduntan highlighted above. His deputy, Francis Shobo agrees, saying FirstBank is looking beyond numbers and considering impact. He makes a bold declaration, “We are trying to make those Agents the centre of the financial ecosystem in the country.”
This probably explains why Firstmonie Agents are considered by the bank as community heroes that it is planting all over the nation. And this is the sense one gets in interviews with Agents and customers across the country.