.100,000 ACCESS CLOSA AGENTS TAKE BANKING TO GRASSROOTS

  With its Closa agents hitting the 100,000 thresholds, Access Bank Plc, has left no one in doubt about its determination to avail itself of the opportunity created by the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Agent Banking policy to extend its tentacles to all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria.

   By every standard, Access Bank Plc has done well for its investors and other stakeholders. The bank which is at the forefront of the mission to ensure easier and safer access to financial services for every Nigerian has not disappointed its investors and its customers.

   Last week, it declared N160, 215 billion for its 2021 performance, a sharp improvement from N106,009 billion in the previous year, while its total assets moved from N8,679 billion to N11,731 billion for the same period.

  Recently, the bank confirmed that the number of its Closa agents (operators arranged to take banking services beyond mortals and bricks) had hit 100,000.

  Industry affairs watchers described the bank’s commitment as a big plus for the financial inclusion programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

  Taking Banks to Nooks and Crannies

   In its quest to take financial services to every corner of the country, the apex bank had promoted the idea of agent banking, a development, which analysts said is still redefining banking in Nigeria up till now.

Agent Banking

   Agency banking is a model that takes financial services to the last mile using human agent networks or merchants, equipped with point-of-sale (POS) machines.

  They’re like human ATMs. Essentially, agency banking brings the point at which customers can carry out financial transactions closer to them. While most people in cities like Lagos go to bank branches or ATMs, in most rural areas, people can find an agent much closer than they can a branch or ATM.

   For instance, Nigeria has about four bank branches and 15 ATMs for every 100,000 adults. But, as it stands, there are over 400 POS machines for the same rate. Agency banking enables customers to access financial services conveniently at the last mile.

Empowerment

    To reach all the regions of the country and to deliver banking services to at least one in every two Nigerians, Access Bank is said to have empowered and deployed 100,000 Access Closa agents to different parts of the country. The programme, according to an insider source, is to provide more than banking services to both existing and new customers across the nation.

  A report published by an online medium, Nairametrics said with the current number of Access Closa Agents spread across the 774 local government areas in the country, the bank has significantly grown access to finance and banking services to millions of previously un(der) banked Nigerians while providing alternate streams of income for MSMEs, promoting financial literacy, and also advancing its ambition to bank one in every two Nigerians by 2025.

   It quoted Executive Director, Retail Banking, Access Bank Plc, Mr Victor Etuokwu as saying that the exponential growth of Access Bank’s agent network is in fulfilment of the Bank’s promise to ensure easier and safer access to financial services for every Nigerian.

   “As a bank driven by innovation, we must deliver better outcomes for customers in terms of speed, security, and service to enhance the customer experience in all the locations that we operate.

   “With the recent achievement of hitting a 100,000 milestone of Access Closa Agents, customers and non-customers of the Bank who are travelling for business, events, or to visit loved ones in any location in Nigeria will continue to enjoy uninterrupted banking services as our Closa agents are available in several rural and semi-urban locations across the country”.

Commitment

   Speaking in the same vein, Senior Advisor, Retail Banking, Access Bank Plc, Mr Robert Giles, explained that “The Access Closa network is a bespoke channel through which the bank expresses her passion and commitment to broadening the opportunities and access to financial services for every Nigerian and African, irrespective of the location they might be.

  Customers can locate a Closa agent near them by simply searching for ‘Access Closa Agent’ on Google Maps on their phone instead of walking long distances in search of a branch.”

   According to information on its website, Access Bank said its Closa agents provide access to financial services right within the neighbourhood. “Our authorised agents process transactions quickly and easily via platforms such as Point-of-Sale (POS) terminals or Mobile Phones.

   With Access CLOSA, you have the opportunity to carry out transactions without visiting a branch. These transactions, according to the bank include Cash Deposits, Cash Withdrawals, Funds Transfer, Bill Payments, Airtime Purchase and Account Opening.

   It also listed categories of prospective agents to include unregistered businesses – individuals, registered businesses – limited liability companies, sole proprietorships, partnerships, cooperative societies and corporates with retail chains / large distribution networks.

   Giles explained further “With over 100,000 agent locations spread across every neighbourhood in the country, we are making sure our existing customers and potential customers can enjoy seamless banking services close to where they live and work, safely and conveniently.

   By offering basic financial services such as account opening, cash withdrawal, cash deposit, and bill payments. Our continuously growing agent network is increasingly making the need to visit a bank branch unnecessary for everyone. We are committed to being at the forefront of providing digital financial services in Nigeria.”

   The bank expressed its commitment to delivering more than banking solutions to its customers leveraging the power of technology.

  “The geographical location tagging of Access Closa agents on Google Maps through internet-connected devices is one more way the Bank is living up to its brand promise as it will assist customers and non-customers of the Bank locate and accessing Closa agents within their communities, truly bringing financial services closer to the people,” a statement on its website said.

   According to the statement, “Access Bank, over the years, has leveraged technology including advanced analytics, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics process automation to reform business operations and drive performance to improve customer experience.

Leading the Pack

  It is interesting to note that the bank has continued to reap bountifully from its innovations in terms of profitability and service offering to its customers and shareholders.

   For instance, Access Bank led a pack of the top five banks, otherwise referred to as the Tier-1 banks or FUGAZ, which had their combined market capitalisation appreciate by 1.90% to close at N2.72 trillion, as investors in these banks gained a total of N50.67 billion at the end of February 2022.

   After a total of 20 trading days for February, 3 out of the 5 tier-1 Nigerian banks enjoyed some rallying and positive market sentiments, with Access Bank Plc leading the gainers’ chart.

   According to data from the Nigerian Exchange (NGX), the market capitalisation of the top five banks grew to N2.72 trillion to appreciate by 1.90% during the period under review.

    Access Bank Plc’s share price appreciated by 4.55% to close the month at N10.35 from N9.90 at the end of January, while the market capitalisation stood at N367.89 billion, gaining a whooping N16 billion at the end of the month.

   Access Bank Plc is yet to file its Audited 2021 FY financial statement. However, its Q3 2021 financial result revealed a decline in net interest income by 3.43% to N67.66 billion, while profit after tax dropped by 9.11%, from N38.46 billion in September 2020 to N34.95 billion in September 2021.

Agent Banking to the Rescue

   According to reports, With around 8,000 bank branches – most of them in big cities – in a country of 200 million people, formal banking services remain out of the reach of most Nigerians.

   Agency banking is said to have seen significant growth, driven by a group of fintech startups, including OPay, TeamApt, and Paga, that dominate the landscape as well as big telco players like MTN.

   The development is said to be forcing commercial banks to have to rethink their retail strategies with more focus on agent networks as a distribution channel, rather than the costly branch model.

   A report which quoted Renaissance Capital’s Director, Frontier And SSA Banks Research Analyst, Adesoji Solanke explained that “for a financial institution, using agent networks is the right strategy given the current market conditions, compared to say digital-only or internet banking.

   “The majority of Nigeria’s population remains offline, with mobile phone penetration at about 50% while smartphone penetration is at 15%. In addition, even though a significant number of people use internet banking, small businesses and merchants don’t have digital ways of accepting payments.

  “This means that most people rely on withdrawing cash for transactions. If you operate a digital bank in the country and try to scale outside of the already banked populace, you need to think of an offline strategy like agent networks as part of your proposition. With digital banking, there’s a portion of the Nigerian populace that you can’t reach.”

THISDAY

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