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Before technology, we must create solutions, products people need – Sterling CEO

Before technology, we must create solutions, products people need – Sterling CEO

Abubakar Suleiman, the chief executive officer at Sterling Bank Plc has said, before developing new technologies, fintech companies must create solutions and products that meet the needs of people whether they have access to cash or not.

He revealed this at a recent webinar themed ‘Cashless Policy: Leveraging New Technologies to Meet Increasing Market Demand’. The event hosted by The Committee of e-Business Industry Heads (CeBIH) deliberated on how companies can take advantage of new technologies to bridge infrastructural gaps in order to meet the increasing demand of customers in a cashless economy.

“Between the deployment of new technologies and the actual need of the society, committees must start to think of how to direct, and guild their members or have forums that will enable them to think of the things that will start to happen before new technologies and after.

“Before technology, we must create the solutions and products that people need. Not just the ones they needed when they had access to cash but what they will now need because they no longer have access to cash,” he said.

He said payment is the easiest to benefit from in terms of cashless. “But you have to understand that the use of cash is not merely for payments as there are other uses. So, we have to build products around them so that people can benefit from them.”

According to the banking and economics professional, every advanced technology solution has to be built on a foundation. “For us, the foundation is to have basic access to power because many of the communities that we are trying to deliver cashless to don’t have access to it.”

He added that that is why as an institution, they prioritise investing in renewable energy over investing in cashless technology because people have to have access to power before they can go cashless.

“So, as we rethink going forward, let’s understand that there is a limit to advanced technologies and that more often than not it is the basic technology that might solve the problem.”

Read also: Inatigo unveils app to make financial knowledge accessible

Data from Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) show that the volume of e-payment transactions rose by 126.5 percent to 2.5 billion in the first quarter of 2023 from 1.1 billion in the same period of last year. While its value rose by 44.6 percent to N123.8 trillion from N85.6 trillion.

“The payment industry has grown significantly and if you look at it in terms of the growth of the economy, you will realise that in the last three months, the industry grew by about 70 perent meaning that it is growing faster than the economy,” Suleiman said.

In 2012, Nigeria developed its first financial inclusion strategy with the target of bringing up to 80 percent of its population into the financial system by 2020, according to Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access, a financial sector development organization.

The country failed to meet the target as it grew to 64.1 percent in 2020 from 63.2 percent in 2018. And although the inclusion rate dropped marginally from 36.8 percent in 2018 to 35.9 percent in 2020, the excluded adult population of 38.1 million in 2020 was higher than the 36.6 million in 2018, meaning 1.5 million adults fell into the exclusion circle in the last two years to 2020.

The World Bank’s 2021 global findex report also showed that Nigeria’s banked population increased by 15.6 percentage points to 45.3 percent. This implies that almost 56 percent of Nigerians are unbanked.

The Federal Government aims to increase the country’s financial inclusion rate to 95 percent in 2024 from 64 percent in 2020.

“Nigeria has made great progress creating a robust payment infrastructure and reforms targeted at growing the entire ecosystem,” Celestina Appeal, chairman of CeBIH said.

She said notwithstanding, there is still a huge need and opportunities for banks, fintech and all payers in the industry to work together to ensure that the most vulnerable, unbanked, underbanked and underserved are protected and catered for and that the transition to a cashless society is as smooth as possible.