By Elizabeth Adegbesan
Further to its medium term programe the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has rolled out strategies to bridge the gender gap in financial inclusion in Nigeria.
Among other things, it said the expansion of serviced delivery channels, through the growth of agent networks under the Shared Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF) is underway.
In its Framework for advancing women inclusion in Nigeria, the regulator said to achieve complete women financial inclusion, there will be an implementation of a set of measures to support account opening by women on a large scale and in the short term.
It recommended among other things the expansion of the issuance of National Identity Numbers, (NIN) to reach all Nigerian women, erasing the current gender gap in NIN issuance; determine less cumbersome (and safer, in the post pandemic context) processes of capturing biometrics in the field; where there is relatively greater ease of issuance of BVNs, follow this as an alternative path, with the processes in both cases managed by women as far as possible.
Another strategy mentioned by the apex bank is the expansion of bank service delivery channels to serve women customers closer to home.
It noted that in Nigeria, agent network development was initially slow, with low numbers overall and with most agents operating in urban areas saying, “ The expansion of delivery channels through the growth of agent networks is well underway under the Shared Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF),designed to deepen financial inclusion in Nigeria through an integrated ecosystem with strong regulatory oversight, consumer protection and interoperable systems with limited concentration risk.
CBN, however, explained that in the context of the current push to increase the number of agents (300,000 as of April 2020), the percentage of female agents is now less than 20 percent stressing that more women in agent banking may be the key to close the gender gap in financial access in Nigeria.
The regulator also stated that developing financially sustainable products and delivery systems that respond to low income women’s needs is another strategic imperative to improve financial inclusion.
To achieve this, the apex bank recommended among other things: “A challenge FSPs (financial services providers) to increase the percentage of the loan portfolio and of savings accounts attributed to women; develop a program of innovation grants to incentivize new products and delivery systems with the greatest potential for advancing women’s financial inclusion.
“Building resilience by developing savings (including structured savings solutions), insurance, and pensions, and capital market products targeted at women customers, including the bundling of products.
“Develop financial products for SME sector designed to work for women; leverage bank-led mobile money operator models to offer credit solutions to MSMEs.
“Further the development of gender sensitive products for agricultural finance, including structured group finance that link farmers and traders to capital and markets.
“Determine additional ways for community-based financial institutions to serve low-income women across Nigeria, leveraging existing community structures (including via fintech solutions); advance SANEF initiatives to support the offer of products and services suited to low-income women (savings, credit, micro- insurance, and micro-pensions), with particular attention to the North.
“Identify opportunities to develop financial products in the areas of microinsurance and micro-pensions; in the insurance realm, target large groups and take into consideration appropriate cover, simple and easily understood products, manageable premiums, suitable delivery channels, and convenient premium collection methods.”