A report by the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC, its private-sector arm) concludes that Nigeria is lagging much of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in terms of inclusion and mobile money. The Future of Financial Inclusion in Africa, released last month, reports that the number of financially excluded people in Nigeria increased by 2.1% in 2017 to 40.1 million. The leads are francophone states such as Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and, predictably, the East Africans.
- The IFC suggests that Nigeria’s underperformance is related to the modest growth in mobile money. The number of mobile money accounts expanded by just 6% in Nigeria in 2017, compared with double-digit growth in many jurisdictions.
- The report holds the regulator largely responsible, pointing to the CBN’s guidelines of 2009 that barred mobile operators from offering mobile money products. Instead, the central bank has awarded operating licenses to companies ranging from retail banks to fintech firms. The target to reduce the excluded ratio to 20% of Nigerian adults by 2020 looks highly ambitious.
- MTN Ghana last week launched an IPO on the local stock exchange and looks to raise up to a reported US$750m equivalent. A striking novelty is that Ghanaians are able to buy the shares on their mobiles (via the company’s Momo Wallet platform).
- MTN Nigeria has pledged to hold its own IPO on the NSE by end-2018. It has arisen as part of a resolution with the regulator regarding a fine imposed on the company after it failed to disconnect improperly registered SIM cards. MTN Nigeria’s IPO does not mean that its competitors will follow suit. (We understand that the IPO in Ghana is a condition attached to the company’s acquisition of a 4G license.)
- The macro importance of mobile money is that it helps to bring people into the taxpaying net. Kemi Adeosun, the federal finance minister, disclosed last week that taxpayer numbers have risen from 13 million in mid-2015 to 19.3 million currently. The principal drivers, we suspect, have been computerisation, enforcement steps and the tax amnesty rather than mobile money.
- The IFC, of course, is not the sole provider of research in this field, and we are happy to report that its findings are very similar to those of the leading domestic body, Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA). The latter’s latest annual report (for 2016) found that 40.1 million Nigerians were financially excluded, representing a 41.6% share of the then adult population. Its definition of the included covers those who are banked, have other formal arrangements and operate through the informal economy.