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Covid-19 and Financial Inclusion in Nigeria: The Good, The Not-So-Ugly

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Onyeka Akpaida, Founder and Chief Impact Officer at Rendra Foundation

No one envisioned the world would be at a standstill for 6 weeks, much less experiencing a global pandemic; in an unprecedented manner, COVID-19 decided to show up regardless.

The economic disruption of this pandemic will largely come from ‘’aversion posture” taken by people to avoid contracting the virus. These include government-imposed lockdowns, business closures and reduction in activities by people which will inadvertently affect all sectors of the economy and translate into reduced income for suppliers, lower wages, unemployment and a lower standard of living.

Bringing it home, our 2020 fiscal budget revenue assumptions were made with a $57 per barrel benchmark; however, the crude oil price dipped as low as $20 this month.

This is worrisome to me as we have been unable to sufficiently set aside buffers against these daunting economic challenges. It is my hope that coming out of this pandemic, Nigeria is able to commence a dogged economic diversification drive.

The estimated number of financially excluded adult Nigerians as of 2018 was 36.6m and given the lockdown situation following the pandemic, many financial services providers are unable to implement planned projects in terms of onboarding customers. It is obvious that Nigeria will not be achieving her 2020 financial inclusion goal of reducing exclusion by 20% from 36.6m to 19.9m adult Nigerians.

Statistics from Global Findex also show that a lack of regular income is the major reason for financial exclusion and it is inevitable that the economic impact of the pandemic which includes loss of income particularly with adults that earn daily wages will not do us any favours in closing this gap.

This article will be addressing the impact of the pandemic on Nigeria’s financial inclusion drive and recommendations to stakeholders- fintech, social enterprisesand government on how best to mitigate and innovate in the short andmedium-term.

Although the effects of this pandemic are going to hit hard in the short and medium- term; there is ample opportunity to cushion the effects by getting the most vulnerable adult Nigerians financially included to give them access to the opportunities highlighted in the recommendation section of this article.

The Not-So-Ugly (Covid-19)

Remote Work: This is inevitable as many brick and mortar financial service providers have to swim against this tide that is in an uncharted territory. The banks are sequestered and so are the customers; financial service providers are leveraging on every office and communication tool to keep work going. You can find us in front of our computers with the webcam on having your ‘beloved’ Monday morning meeting with your line manager trying to explain why you have been unable to land that customer.

Loans & Lending: There will definitely be a surge in the requests for loan facilities to meet up to daily and expensive demand of staying at home; I can imagine most lending institutions and apps are inundated with loan requests given the ease of getting credit in less than 5 minutes. Loan default is guaranteed as some workers have been laid off, and those who earn daily wages in non-essential sectors will be unable to meet up with their repayments.

The good news is the Central Bank of Nigeria has directed that moratorium be given to credit facilities and most financial service providers have taken a consumer friendly position by providing up to 3 months moratorium to ease the burden on borrowers. The Central Bank of Nigeria has also directed that interest rates on all applicable intervention funds be reduced from 9% to 5% (be sure to check that your bank has done it.) It is also expected that lending institutions will reduce the credit limits of customers to mitigate default.

Mobile Money Usage: Following the lockdown measures and call for social distancing, most transactions will be conducted via mobile banking apps and agents to cater to under-served and peri- urban communities. According to EFINA Access to Finance 2018 Survey, Mobile money usage increased by 2.2% from 2016 and we expect these numbers to increase exponentially by the end of 2020 with the lockdown being a key catalyst.

Leveraging the use of USSD offline technology, it has become easier reaching the under-served with affordable banking services as it does not require internet usage. We expect to see growth in the Access to Finance 2020 survey statistics on mobile banking usage in the areas with previously high financial exclusion rates.

The Good (Recommendation):

Financial Inclusion Goal: The  Digital Nigeria report on financial inclusion as at January 2020 revealed that over 36 million of the 101.4 million adult Nigerians are financially excluded and if you are gender- focused like I am, it will interest you to know that about 20.5 million of the excluded population are women. There is a huge opportunity for new players in the financial inclusion space irrespective of your business location- Urban centres or rural communities and if you are passionate about under-served communities, there are over 28 million excluded people in this demography.

Reduction in barriers to entry by regulators in the financial inclusion space such as high cost of fees will also encourage more players and ultimately bring us closer to Nigeria’s financial inclusion goal of achieving a 20% reduction in the excluded population by 2020.

Kenya’s largest Telco announced a fee waiver on M-Pesa, the country’s leading mobile money product for 90 days to reduce the physical exchange of currency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak following a directive from Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to explore ways of deepening mobile-money usage to reduce risk of spreading the virus through physical handling of cash. Implementation of such measures will use digital finance as a lever to influence social distancing, P2P transactions and financial inclusion in an infectious health crisis.

Fintech and Social Enterprises: There is an opportunity for fintech companies to innovate and go beyond payments and transactions. One of the many effects of the pandemic and lockdown measures is an increase in illnesses especially in rural and densely populated households or communities where social distancing is nothing but a pipe dream. This is the time to collaborate with health management and pension organisations to develop a product that caters to the vulnerable and under-served.

Micro & SME Businesses and Households: Nigeria with over 37 million micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) account for over 84% of the jobs in the country; the Central Bank of Nigeria, taking the 48.5% contribution of the sector to our GDP, introduced the N50 billion Targeted Credit Facility (TCF) in March 2020 as a stimulus package to support households and MSMEs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This facility will be disbursed through the NIRSAL Microfinance Bank (NMFB) with a reviewed maximum amount for MSMEs now pegged at N2.5mm (formerly 15mm) and a moratorium period of up to 1 year.

To date 80,000+ number of applications have been received and you can access the guidelines and application via the NMFB. There is also a need for a membership or association system to be created for hawkers and road side sellers who fall under the category of micro-businesses to access to facilities such as the COVID relief for affected businesses. The association will be responsible for disbursement, monitoring and repayment of the facility.

Government Agencies

As it is, the government is fast losing the trust of its citizens as the stories from the implementation of social protection programmes are highly discouraging. Although we are in a too little too late situation, I will still recommend that the government makes financial inclusion and biometric registration an essential part of its social registration process. This will reduce the risk of paying “ghost beneficiaries”as each person registered will have the BVN as a unique identifier.

In the US where there is a stimulus package for citizens earning less than 75000 USD. Eligible citizens are now receiving $1200 monthly support. 7 eleven (a Walmart competitor) and Mastercard created a card with an account behind it to quickly capture the excluded and reduce their wait time to receive the stimulus by several weeks when compared to the post-delivery option.

Also Read: Women in Tech: Interview With Ellen Fischat, Founder Story Room and Inspiring Fifty SA Ambassador

Written by: Onyeka Akpaida is a financial service professional with 9+years of experience in financial inclusion, consumer-centric digital banking and public sector engagement in a top tier leading International Bank and the founder of Rendra Foundation where she works to promote financial inclusion for low- income and migrant women in northern Nigeria.

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Press Release

DHL Express acquires a stake in Link Commerce, a commitment to growing African e-commerce

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Hennie Heymans, CEO of DHL Express sub-Saharan Africa (Source: Deutsche Post DHL)

DHL acquires a stake in their strategic partner company, Link Commerce, in support of growing e-commerce in Sub-Saharan Africa and other global emerging e-commerce markets; Africa’s online retail market predicted to reach an 11-digit dollar value in 2020.

DHL Express today announced its minority stake acquisition in Link Commerce, the UK-based e-commerce firm that helped the logistics company develop its hugely successful DHL Africa eShop platform.

Hennie Heymans, CEO of DHL Express sub-Saharan Africa, says that the acquisition demonstrates the company’s commitment to growing e-commerce on the continent. “Acquiring a stake in Link Commerce – the company behind the MallforAfrica.com platform – shows our tremendous support of e-commerce in Africa. It also positions us to realize our ambitions of growing the eShop offering globally, and work on the scalability of the platform when the opportunity arises.”

”DHL’s investment in Link Commerce is a perfect fit. With the DHL investment we are now able to grow faster by leveraging the amazing shipping network DHL has built globally. This will help us expand our white-label turnkey B2B eCommerce platform and provide online shoppers with the ability to shop more and get more at great shipping rates fast.” said Chris Folayan Founder and CEO of Link Commerce and Mall for Africa.

Just over one year on from its initial launch, the DHL Africa eShop continues to see massive growth in sub-Saharan Africa. Heymans notes that the DHL Africa eShop has consistently outperformed expectations since its launch. “The platform was developed in partnership with Link Commerce and initially launched in 11 African countries in April 2019. It was an immediate success, gaining around 5,000 subscribers within the first six weeks. Today, DHL Africa eShop is live in 34 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa with tens of thousands of users across the continent.”

Also Read: Interview With Amadou Diallo, CEO of DHL Global Forwarding Middle East & Africa

The DHL Africa eShop offers African consumers unprecedented access to international retailers via an easy-to-use platform, with great convenience, speed and reliability. “DHL Africa eShop enables African customers to shop directly from over 200 US- and UK-based online retailers, with purchases delivered directly to their door, by DHL Express.”

Heymans adds, “Online buying behaviours and product mixes have evolved quite significantly since the onset of COVID-19. Some of the most popular items on the platform now include productivity and communications devices to support remote working, home and kitchen appliances, entertainment gadgets and health related products, in addition to the historic orders of fashion and beauty products. Consumer interests have shifted towards goods that are harder to source locally. With brick-and-mortar retailers in many regions operating at reduced capacity, consumers have turned to online shopping to acquire the goods they need. It’s been great to see eShop providing vital online shopping access during this time, with impressive growth coming from countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Angola, Uganda and Kenya during the various stages of lockdowns, and with South Africa back on board to access e-commerce, we are thrilled for our users to be able to use service offering once more.

Just over one year on from its initial launch, the DHL Africa eShop continues to see massive growth in sub-Saharan Africa

Assurance for delivery has become a top priority for consumers,” says Heymans. “ Basket sizes have also increased, as shoppers seek to get all of what they need immediately, rather than to space out their orders. Online shopping supports the ultimate level of social distancing – connecting consumers to everything they need at a click of a button.

Heymans explains that while the e-commerce market in Sub-Saharan Africa has been largely overlooked by international retailers in the past, it currently offers some of the biggest opportunities for rapid growth in the world.

E-commerce is proving to be one of the most important and fastest-growing market sectors in Africa. A report published by Rapid B2C forecasts that Africa’s online retail market will reach an 11-digit dollar value in 2020, while another report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that this value could potentially reach $75 billion by 2025.

“These growth predictions, coupled with the incredible demand and quick uptake of the DHL Africa eShop offering, confirm that this acquisition is the right move to ensure DHL Express is geared for continued growth,” adds Heymans.

As part of the acquisition, Heymans has been made a board member of London-based Link Commerce Ltd. “We have no doubt that deepening our partnership with Link Commerce in this way will take both companies, as well as e-commerce on the continent and new markets across the globe, to new heights. I am honoured to take on this new role as part of DHL’s growth strategy.”

“ At Link Commerce our strategy is to help businesses grow and provide shoppers globally with access to US and UK online retailers like never before. DHL’s investment in the company gives us that edge we need to expand rapidly globally and access to products like never before,” said Chris Folayan, Founder and CEO of Link Commerce Ltd.  

With operations across 51 markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, servicing customers, efficient delivery is an important factor for DHL Express. “Our strategic investments in innovative technology and connectivity across the region, are all aimed at promoting global trade and ensuring that businesses and individuals across the continent can leverage global opportunities,” Heymans concludes.

Source: Deutsche Post DHL 

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Press Release

Aradei Capital welcomes South African shareholder PIC in its Shareholding

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PIC invests USD 50 million in Aradei Capital

The Public Investment Corporation (PIC), on behalf of its client, the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) of South Africa, has acquired a 13% stake in Aradei Capital for USD 50 million.

Aradei Capital is a real estate platform headquartered in Morocco that specializes in commercial real estate assets. It has a presence in 15 cities across Morocco. Through this investment, the PIC joins other reputable investors in Aradei Capital that include the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Label’Vie (LBV), a leading food retailer and franchisee of the Carrefour brand in Morocco, SANAM Holding and Best Financière which has interests in large and medium retail properties in Morocco.

Aradei Capital aims to be a leading platform in commercial real estate in Morocco since the country recently enacted legislation that enables real estate investment trust (REIT).

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis, the completion of this transaction is a testament to the strong fundamentals and growth prospect still forecasted in this segment.

“We are proud to welcome the GEPF to the shareholding and look forward to a long-term partnership” said Mr. Nawfal Bendefa, CEO of Aradei Capital. “This capital investment is key to funding our identified pipeline and we anticipate strong growth emerging from this global COVID-19 crisis. We expect such growth will be driven by a migration to commercial real estate with higher standards” he added.

This transaction is a mixed capital increase and a partial block-sale of shares held by the EBRD. Mrs. Marie-Alexandra Veilleux-Laborie, EBRD Director for Morocco, commented: “Our investment in Aradei Capital demonstrates our strategy in promoting innovative financings and capital market development in Morocco. The EBRD supported the company’s governance and growth, which have enabled it to attract a new foreign investment with the entry of PIC as a large international institutional investor. We look forward to remaining an active shareholder and further contributing to the development of commercial real estate in the country.”

Mr. Vuyani Hako, the PIC’s acting Chief Executive Officer believes the investment in Aradei Capital is in line with its Africa Property strategy. “We believe that partnerships are essential for us to deliver on the Africa strategy. Aradei Capital has the necessary expertise in Morocco that will enable us to deliver on our partnership approach to investing in African property markets”.

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“We are, particularly excited about future growth prospects informed by Aradei Capital’s clear and solid strategy to diversify into new asset categories and other yield generating real estate asset classes. We believe that our client, the GEPF, stands to benefit from this investment in the long run,” he added.

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Press Release

Prepare For Resurgent Property Markets In Africa

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Derrick Roper, Managing Director of Novare Real Estate

Despite current circumstances – dominated by the human and economic cost of Covid-19 – the African real estate investment cycle will return to its long-term trajectory of accelerated development, driven by economic fundamentals and demographics.

Derrick Roper, Managing Director of private equity specialist, Novare Real Estate, says that, in time, African property markets will continue to reward resilient investors with superior returns. In the short-term, the impact of Covid-19 will be felt particularly in terms of movement restrictions that result in customers preferring to order takeaways while bulk purchasing essential products.

On the plus side, Roper says African real estate has experienced less of an impact due to the coronavirus because there are fewer cases and the continent relies less on tourism and international visitors compared with the US, Europe and Asia.

“The longer-term prospects for African property, driven by market fundamentals, remain promising. The opportunity for investors is that the uncertainty as a result of Covid-19 is likely to bring to the market quality assets at very competitive prices. Novare’s existing portfolio of properties across three economies is well positioned for the up-turn.”

Also Read: These two Africans are helping businesses and individuals spend less time doing expenses with Xpensi

Novare Real Estate has been developing commercial property in sub-Saharan Africa for over a decade, financing and building projects that meet the growing demand for a modern shopping and office experience.

Roper says that African markets still offer significant investment and development opportunity given the short supply of A-grade commercial real estate. With supportive demographics and some of the fastest growing economies in the world, these markets are inherently sustainable and capable of producing risk-appropriate long-term investment returns for investors.

Supporting his positive outlook, Roper notes the performance momentum that was building up across the group’s portfolio of properties in Zambia, Mozambique and Nigeria prior to the onset of Covid-19.

“Before government rules designed to contain the coronavirus in various African cities by curtailing the movement of people, Novare’s malls and offices had been enjoying brisk trade and visitor numbers that were well up on the previous year. Our developments are relatively new and are establishing as preferred retail hubs with ever-increasing occupancy rates of between 80% and 95%.”

For example, Novare Lekki mall in Nigeria’s most populous city, Lagos, attracted 7.3 million visitors during 2019, a 40% increase in footfall compared to 2018.

Novare Apo in the capital city of Abuja recorded 1.7 million visitors in 2019, in line with the footfall achieved in the previous year. Novare Gateway, also in Abuja increased its foot count by 33% in 2019 to 3.3 million people.

The new Novare Central development – comprising a single-level retail shopping centre with A-grade offices on the first, second and third floors – in the vibrant Wuse area of Abuja experienced visitor numbers in the fourth quarter of 2019 that were over 20% higher than in the fourth quarter of 2018.

At Novare Great North in Lusaka, Zambia total footfall for 2019 was 3.36 million compared to 2.24 million customers in 2018, a 50% increase year-on-year.Novare Pinnacle mall, also in Lusaka, opened in March 2019 with a very satisfactory 4.4 million foot count over the nine-month period to December.

In Mozambique, more than two million customers visited Novare Matola during 2019, an increase of 82% on the footfall achieved in 2018.The increase in traffic to Novare Matola improved tenant trade which, in turn, resulted in the increased recovery of rental arears and decreasing rental concessions.

Financial concessions have also played a role in Novare assisting tenants through lockdowns and other restrictive measures in response to the pandemic.

Says Roper: “We’ve had to adjust to rapidly changing circumstances, renegotiating and reducing gearing levels across the portfolio. Also working closely with successful retail tenants to support them in all aspects to ensure they trade and offer essential products and services to customers.”

In oil-producing countries like Nigeria, the collapse in the oil price has compounded economic problems caused by Covid-19.

“With the exception of gold, we expect commodity prices to remain subdued this year, contributing to poor economic growth prospects. Looking further ahead, Novare anticipates that the recovering global economy will support commodity prices and expansion in Africa. This, combined with supportive demographics, will help return Sub-Saharan African property to its growth trajectory,” says Roper.

Novare Real Estate’s developments are through its Mauritius-listed property funds – Novare Africa Property Fund I and II. Fund I was closed in June 2010 after raising $81 million, while Fund II raised $351 million and had its final close on 30 June 2016.

The group’s aim is to deliver superior long-term investment returns for clients who are mainly institutional investors, including African pension funds. To optimise the success of its projects, Novare adopts a hands-on approach, with an on-the-ground presence in the countries in which it undertakes developments.

“Our team boasts unrivalled expertise in investment management, property development and facilities management. Novare takes pride in the contribution our projects make towards infrastructure development, economic growth and sustainable employment in the communities where we operate. The intention is to expand our geographical reach to include opportunities in Uganda, Ghana and Kenya,” says Roper.

Novare Real Estate

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