• Monday, July 15, 2024
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COVID-19 accelerated mobile money to drive remittances in West Africa – Bancole

COVID-19 accelerated mobile money to drive remittances in West Africa – Bancole

ADENIKE BANCOLE is the regional head of West Africa at WorldRemit. In this interview with Josephine Okojie, she speaks about the West African remittance industry and what WorldRemit is doing to capture the region’s unbanked population.

Can you give us a summary of WorldRemit’s operations, growth and key success highlights across West Africa?

WorldRemit kicked off operations in West Africa 10 years ago, starting with Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire, and has since been facilitating Diaspora remittances in the region from all the continents. Through our fully digital services, we have been enabling the inflow of Diaspora that contributes to the economy of the regions and the lives of West Africans. To date, WorldRemit is in operations in the whole of the region and has expedited transactions close to £4 billion over the last decade.

Our fully digital platform has positioned us to be able to deliver affordable, fast, and safe services to our customers and we have successfully done this by offering a diverse range of options that allows our customers the choice to receive funds through mobile money, bank transfer, cash pick-up, and airtime top-up. We make these options available based on the financial services landscape of each West African market, making sure that we take into account the realities of financial inclusion by bridging the gap between the unbanked population through the multiple options we offer for payouts.

Across the region, we have partnered with several financial services institutions and can adapt quickly to regulatory requirements to ensure that customers can continue to send and receive funds effectively and efficiently. In Nigeria, we have partnered with reputable banks for our bank transfer and cash pick-up services, and we have one of the largest networks for our bank transfer services in the country.

What are some of your expansion plans for West Africa?

West Africa represents an important part of our business. The whole region accounts for a high percentage of the EMEA region inflow. In the UK and France, which are two major countries from where money is sent into West Africa, we have also invested heavily in community engagement and marketing efforts, promoting the work that WorldRemit is doing in this region to allow its users to send money home in an affordable, fast and reliable way.

We have successfully built a reliable and secured platform to guarantee a seamless inflow into the region, with strong partnerships and diverse payout channels in various markets. We have embraced the fast pace of remittance digitalisation for our customers, due to the pandemic realities.

As a major player in the remittances industry, what are some of the key challenges and opportunities for the industry across West Africa and Nigeria in particular?

Remittances form one of the major sources of funds for families and provide foreign income for countries across West Africa including Nigeria. According to the International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD, 2021), about 75 percent of remittances are used to put food on the table and cover medical expenses, school fees, or housing expenses. Their findings also revealed that about 25 percent of remittances, representing over $100 billion per year, can be either saved or invested in asset-building or activities that generate income and jobs and transform economies, particularly in rural areas.

The opportunities are immense, with remittance aiding in everyday resources such as food, housing, education, health care, and entrepreneurship among others.

However, the cost of sending funds, ease of access, security, and speed of receiving funds across borders are some of the major challenges experienced in the industry. However, it is impressive that International Money Transfer Operators (IMTOs), like WorldRemit, have risen to the challenge to offer solutions. WorldRemit is a fully digital platform, which means customers can receive funds in a matter of minutes over a secure network while also creating access for West Africans in hard-to-reach communities.

West Africa is a large and diverse market that provides the opportunity for expansion and strengthening of financial inclusion and infrastructure. There are opportunities to expand the channels through which funds are received in some regions, such as mobile money.

Remittances also offer the opportunity to create a pipeline for micro-financing for individuals to start businesses, which increases capacities for all kinds of people to access basic amenities.

Despite the challenges, there are a lot of technical transformations combined with a more facilitated regulatory environment in various West African markets that can set the stage for some very interesting evolution in the industry.

What are your views on the growth of the remittance industry in Nigeria and across West Africa? Where do you see the industry in the coming year?

It is no secret that remittance is mainly driven by Diaspora migration, as people send money back home to family and loved ones.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a few challenges arise in West African countries, including in Nigeria, namely the need for increased reliance on contactless and digital ways of money transfer. Almost immediately, people were faced with a change in their purchase habits, which was accompanied by the rise of new online and e-commerce businesses, as well as increased digitisation of payment channels.

Read also: Why PSB is Nigeria’s ticket to higher financial inclusion, low poverty rate

Going forward, we can expect this trend to continue, as the remittance industry embraces more and more technological innovations, particularly when it comes to offers like remittance transfers to goods, remittance transfers to pay bills, and other similar services.

A large percentage of the Nigerian population is unbanked. What solution does WorldRemit offer to capture this segment of the market?

As the Nigerian federal government continues to formulate policies and make investments towards the attainment of financial inclusion targets, WorldRemit has designed inclusive solutions to ensure that the unbanked are captured in service delivery. Through our cash pick-up service, customers can visit any of our partner banks in Nigeria to receive their funds in cash even without a bank account. Our airtime transfer service also means that customers on the send side can send airtime directly to the phones of recipients.

Innovations are revolutionizing the industry with the aim to ease customers’ access to financial inclusion, and some of them, as mentioned above, are expected to grow in the near future. WorldRemit perhaps will explore other innovative ideas that will adapt to the unbanked in more ways that go beyond the receiving of cash in our various markets of operation including West Africa.

What is your view of the regulatory environment in Nigeria, especially as it relates to non-bank financial institutions like WorldRemit?

In all our host communities, we are committed to working with the regulators to ensure that we can deliver our services effectively to our customers while also supporting the regulators to ensure that we meet all regulatory requirements. In Nigeria, the CBN has been very instrumental in creating policies that drive the growth of remittances. Both the directive that now allows customers to receive remittances in dollars and the Naira for Dollar initiative amongst other positive directives are indeed commendable.

How did WorldRemit successfully navigate the spread of the pandemic to ensure that customers across West Africa did not experience any significant interruptions?

In the last decade, the development of new digital platforms and services led by WorldRemit and others has caused a shift in the way consumers favour electronic transactions over cash. The pandemic itself did not cause the shift to digital transfers, but it did trigger acceleration in the use of mobile money and other non-cash payment options. We believe that this trend will continue to grow in 2022 as service consumers are expected to increasingly opt for digital options, as long as they are fast, simple, reliable, and secure.

For example, West Africa recorded an increase of 23percent of active mobile money accounts in 2020 resulting in 47million active accounts, against 159million in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 300m globally. At the same time, mobile money-enabled remittances have seen no negative impact and have been more resilient than other channels (GSMA,2021). Despite the overall impact of the pandemic, international remittances sent and received through mobile money increased by 65 percent (or $5 billion) in 2020, reaching $12.7 billion on an annual basis. This is a first-time record of more than $1 billion international remittances on average per month processed through mobile money. These are the factors that WorldRemit took into consideration, to quickly adapt the payouts channels in the region and spread our mobile money payouts services in collaboration with our partners. As the pandemic continues and new dynamics emerge, we continue to remain affordable for the senders making sure that the cost of sending remains low and the receivers receive their money in the comfort of their digital apps and mobile accounts.

One of the core focus areas for any organization operating in the payments and money transfer space is prioritising easy and fast payment solutions. How well has WorldRemit been able to deliver given the challenges?

Ease of use and a fast payment solution are two key factors that describe the value we offer our customers. This has been made possible through our fully digital platform. 95percent of our transfers are accessible to recipients within minutes, from their bank accounts, in their mobile money wallets, ready for cash pick-up or as phone airtime.

For senders, they have the choice of initiating transfers through our mobile app or secure website in minutes – that is, after they must have completed the registration requirements.

This approach means we can navigate some of the challenges in the industry, particularly those that arise as a result of inadequate infrastructure.

As a woman in leadership, what advice will you give to other women and young Africans to become successful in their chosen careers?

To me, success mainly requires three things; consistency, persistence, and resilience.

We’re all special in our very own unique ways, which means our strengths and weaknesses may be different, but do not make us more or less special. What makes us special is the will to always show up and put forth our best efforts no matter what. This logic can be applied to our everyday lives, not just our professional careers.

QUOTE: As the Nigerian federal government continues to formulate policies and make investments towards the attainment of financial inclusion targets, WorldRemit has designed inclusive solutions to ensure that the unbanked are captured in service delivery