By Eric Elezuo
When Nigeria’s foremost bank, FirstBank of Nigeria Plc rolled out drums to celebrate top performers among its over 37, 000 firstmonie banking agents, the reasons were obvious. In the first instance, the bank succeeded in proving that it remains the first name behind the quest to implement financial inclusion in the banking world as well as explain that the gap between the tech savvy and the low literacy clients has been breached. This is because the firstmonie agent network represents the convenient and comfortable alternative for customers that are acquainted with sophisticated digital channels.
Another reason stem from the fact that it has succeeded in looking into the future to create that ecosystem that allows easy financial transaction wherever a customer is in Nigeria.
At the event, FirstBank compensated 37 leading agents with N15, 250, 000.00 as follows; the sum of N250, 000 to 31 agents at the state level; N1, 000, 000 to five agents at the regional level and a whopping N2, 500, 000 to the grand prize winner at the National level. Zayyanu Hassan Ishaq from Abuja emerged the grand prize winner.
FirstBank’s Firstmonie service is providing financial/banking solutions to rural and semi-urban locations across the country. Through this channel, the Bank is providing convenient services that endears trust and provides ease of access to banking products, irrespective of location, literacy levels, familiarity with technology and accessibility to modern infrastructural facilities.
The firstmonie initiative of FirstBank is borne out of the fact that 38 per cent of the adult population in the country is financially excluded. Of this number, according to EFINA 2018 Survey, 41.1 percent are male while 55.9 percent are female. There was need therefore, to get all hands on deck to bring about financial inclusiveness among all and sundry, invariably fostering economic development.
Trancing the origin of firstmonie, the Deputy Managing Director, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Mr. Francis Gbenga Shobo stated that “It actually started in 2009 when it was just a concept in the bank. We have branches all over nigeria; we are one of the most spread branches in the country. But we felt that there was still an opening out there. It was in 2010 that we launched the firstmomie programme.”
Lending credence, the Group Executive eBusiness and Retail Products, Mr. Chuma Ezirim, confirmed that steps were taken between 2014 and 2017 to give the programme the top of spot status it enjoys today.
“In 2014, we took a decision to change the scheme from wallet base to account base. It took us another two years to test the concept and officially started the pilot in 2017,” Ezirim revealed.
It is worthy of note that the firstmonie initiative had undergone several operating structure changes and value proposition. In December 2017, the bank ran its pilot test with over 400, 000 transactions processed. The success of the first run necessitated its re-launching in 2018.With a key motive of ‘planting community heroes nationwide’, FirstBank has not only succeeded in developing the small and medium scale enterprise sector, but has created independent finance experts and men and women who can hold their own financially.
Giving further details, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, First Bank of Nigeria Plc. Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, described how it is FirstBank’s proactive stance to leverage on gaps in the society to provide long lasting solutions beneficial to citizens towards financial inclusion, addressing poverty, hunger, unemployment and reducing crime.
He said: “The key part of our history and our future is about development and economic growth, and the key strength of our franchise is our ability to look at gaps in the society, develop products and services that address that gap. So as an integral part of our strategy, we believe that by significantly working with the Central Bank, we can improve the financial inclusion index of the country. We would, as FirstBank, be assisting this country to address poverty, hunger…thereby also promoting security of life and property because when people are gainfully employed, the implication is that they think less of crime.
He noted that FirstBank’s intention with firstmonie is to try as much as possible to make agents the ‘centre of the financial ecosystem in the country’.
Across the length and breath of the nation, tidings of great joy are the order of the day following the presence of FirstBank’s firstmonie agents, even in the remotest parts of existence. The scheme has eased the stress of trading and has raised financially independent entrepreneurs as well as thoroughbred employers of labour.
In Aiyetoro, a riverine community in Ilaje, Ondo State, where there are no banks, but FirstBank has positively impacted it. A firstmonie agent, Stephen Adeleye, confided that;
“People can easily walk in without having to travel and that has developed a savings habit because we have easy access to the bank and can deposit their money easily,” he said.
Testifying to the positive impact of the scheme, a beneficiary, Tina Farodoye, revealed that “The transaction has really helped my business to grow. I buy my things in bulk and do a transfer from here. And the things I buy from Lagos gives me more gains because they are expensive here.
“Again, Agent Emphraim Osinachi from Obohie, Asa Ukwa West of Abia State explained that people of all ages have embraced the scheme because of its positives, saying that customers are better given attention by the agents as against what is obtainable at the ATMs.
“We serve all ages, from adults to minor. Unlike the ATM machine where there is no assistance, the people feel relaxed here. Sometime ago, armed robbers invaded a house and were able to get only N50 from a home after ransacking the house while the owners were away. The reason is because of the firstmonie agent banking in place now.”
He maintained firstmonie is a veritable option to enforcing the Federal Government policy on cashless economy.
Aliu Adeleye spoke from Lekki-Aja in Lagos, and excitedly narrated how people have come to support and patronise the scheme, stressing that business improved when he added ‘mobile banking transaction using our firstmonie platform’.
“This place is heavily buzzing with transactions, especially in the evenings when the banking halls are already closed. Presently we have about six other locations because of the demands, and they are all doing well,” an elated Adeleye said.
Surajudeen Adebisi Bada from Abeokuta, Ogun State stated that “we open by 8am but people are already lined up by 7am, and there over two hundred customers trying to transfer money and over a thousand trying to collect money. If I look at our data base, I am convinced that we can beat some of the banks.”
Noting the importance of Firstmonie agents, Shobo emphasized that they are the ones the customers go to, to open accounts, take deposits, make payments, sell airtime and all the rest, adding that ‘they are the most critical part of that ecosystem’. He further lauded the CBN for its regulatory role and enablement and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their contributions and oversight functions.
“The regulators are very important, and we must give it to the CBN and its governor, Godwin Emefiele; they have done a lot of changes in regulation that have allowed the programme to scale as much as it has, today. A very, very important partner of ours has been the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; they helped us with grants, advice, and insight of what they had in other countries. We’ve used all that in coming up with the testimonies with which we are running now.”
Today, we have 36, 000 agents, with each having about one or two persons assisting them. We have opened more than 500, 000 accounts, processed more than two trillion transactions through the firstmonie agency, indirect employment in excess of 100, 000 people working across the entire value chain. More than 8, 000 women have been fully empowered servicing different customers, and they can begin to improve for themselves,” he said.
Sustaining the avalanche of positive feedbacks, Kehinde Kudirat Kasali from Ogun State, confessed that ‘FirstBank has been able to help me a lot. This is so that I can stand on my own. I can hold my own anywhere I am, and I appreciate Firstmonie.”
In the words of Uchechi Amogu from Obowo in Imo State, ‘There’s really been a great change in my life. I can tell you that in this very location, sometimes we do up to 200 transactions each day. I was working alone, but now I have employed two other persons.”
From Warri, Delta State, Orode Hesse, said that “Firstmonie has really impacted me; it has empowered me financially, and I have been able to employ six staff; five female and one male. I see firstmonie as a business to employ and empower women.”
Abubakar Aki Bolaji from Abuja puts it this way ‘the nearest bank here is about 15 kilometres away. We have cut the cost of transportation, and we have about 350 footprints here on a daily basis’ exposing a massive influx of customers each passing day.
Conquering harsh terrains and topography, the firstmonie agent banking scheme has reach the nook and crannies of Northern Nigeria and made impacts indelible to neglect.
“We have built up a significant number of firstmonie agents in the Northern parts of the country. A top government officer from Jigawa State told me of a couple of agents at somewhere in Gumel. This is about 70 kilometres to the nearest bank-town. Along the 70 kilometres, he said he saw two agent locations. That’s a testimony of our presence in the North.
“We are not stopping. It’s going to be a marathon; we believe there’s a lot to be done, not just in Nigeria. We also have other locations across Africa. Ghana is of interest to us, and we have started rolling our agency banking in Ghana. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a country of about 80 million people, is also a significant opportunity for us to help Africa, to promote financial inclusion and begin to address poverty across the continent,” Adeduntan said.
The assessment of Mohammed Tatari from Bauchi state seems to summarise the unquantifiable advantage of firstmonie.
He said: “We are thankful for this bank that has come closer to us. Before this time, people travel far just to enjoy banking services, but now firstmonie has brought banking close to them. This firstmonie service is helping people in many ways, as a result, we are experiencing large numbers of people here.”l
“Before firstmonie, goods have to be loaded into vehicles and will not be delivered until money has exchanged hands. But now, we just transfer the money to the supplier and the goods will be delivered without question so this has really changed our lives.”
While the tradition among people is that banks have about 600 locations, FirstBank has 37, 000 locations, and they are present in 99 per cent of the 774 local government areas of the Federation, and there’s no one close to the record. The beauty of the opportunity is that it is being used to impact positively on the society.
The Head, Marketing and Communication, FirstBank Nigeria Plc, Mrs. Folake Ani-Mumuney, was full of praises and encouragement for the Firstmonie agents, urging them to continue in their giant strides while encouraging others to follow suit to further raise the banner of financial reach and inclusion, and the Nigerian economy.
“This is about your future and the growth of your locality and the country in general. Continue to thrive and win, and do not rest on your laurels,” she admonished.
“The unwavering efforts and remarkable contributions by our Firstmonie Agents at promoting financial inclusion in Nigeria is indeed very much appreciated. We remain committed to doing more, strengthening business activities, driving economic growth and development; thereby reducing poverty,” the CEO, Adeduntan concluded.