• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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BusinessDay

Walking a tightrope: Can the CBN regulate and collaborate in Nigeria’s fintech space?

How bank’s fintech arms performed in Q1

By Mohammed Akanni

Nigeria’s financial technology (fintech) sector is a vibrant ecosystem brimming with innovation and opportunities, with the sole aim of fostering financial inclusion. Central to its success is a robust regulatory framework overseen by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), entrusted with maintaining stability, fostering growth, and safeguarding the integrity of the financial system.

However, as fintech disrupts traditional paradigms and reshapes the financial services system, questions arise about the CBN’s solitary position as the primary regulatory authority in this space and the ethical implications of its engagement with industry players. Hence, the need for a delicate balance between regulation and collaboration might seem like a challenge for the apex bank.

It is a known fact that Nigeria’s fintech ecosystem enjoys the dominance of the CBN as the sole regulatory authority. Unlike other jurisdictions where multiple regulatory bodies oversee different aspects of the industry, the CBN stands alone, wielding considerable influence over licensing, supervision, and policy formulation.

While this centralised approach offers clarity and coherence, it also raises concerns about regulatory agility, adaptability, and potential conflicts of interest when dabbling into other innovations championed by players in the industry.

The recent trend of the CBN and Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement Systems (NIBSS) operating in the players’ industry—inventing a national payment card known as AfriGo—further complicates this narrative. On the one hand, partnerships between regulators and players can foster innovation, promote regulatory compliance, and address emerging challenges. Yet, the line between collaboration and co-option blurs when regulatory bodies extend undue favours or privileges to a specific player, raising questions about fairness, impartiality, and regulatory capture.

Experts have raised concerns as this partnership might appear to confer preferential treatment or competitive advantages. Additionally, debates are being sparked about the ethical appropriateness of regulatory engagement mixed with operating as a player in the same industry. The CBN, as a regulator, has a solitary obligation, which is to foster a level playing field for all players in the financial sector.

At its core, the issue transcends individual players or regulatory bodies; it speaks to broader principles of governance, transparency, and accountability. As Nigeria’s fintech ecosystem matures, regulators must navigate the delicate balance between fostering innovation and preserving market integrity. This requires a steadfast commitment to ethical conduct, robust oversight mechanisms, and a willingness to engage with diverse stakeholders to ensure that regulatory actions serve the public interest.

It is beyond doubt that collaboration can potentially facilitate innovation by creating a regulatory sandbox where fintech companies can test new products and services in a controlled environment, enhance financial inclusion by exploring ways to reach unbanked and underbanked populations through fintech solutions, and promote financial literacy by collaborating on educational initiatives to empower consumers in the digital financial landscape.

However, collaboration between regulator and player is a tightrope walk. The CBN must be extremely cautious to avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest or granting undue advantage while simultaneously operating as a player, or in any case, collaborating with an industry player. This can stifle competition, hinder innovation, and ultimately harm the entire fintech ecosystem.

The CBN’s role as the primary regulator in Nigeria’s fintech space can present both opportunities and challenges. While its singular authority offers clarity and coherence, it also raises questions about regulatory agility and the potential for regulatory capture.

Moreover, the ethical dimensions of regulatory collaboration with industry players underscore the need for greater transparency, accountability, and adherence to ethical standards. Nigeria’s fintech revolution holds immense promise, and as it continues to evolve, the CBN, as the steward of this sector, must uphold the highest standards of integrity, professionalism, and regulatory stewardship to foster a vibrant and inclusive financial ecosystem that benefits all Nigerians.

By upholding transparency and fostering a fair competitive environment, the CBN can empower all players, propel the Nigerian fintech sector to even greater heights, and not be seen as a player in the same industry where it regulates.