Over the years, financial inclusion has been presented as an instrument of poverty eradication in the developing world and financial sectors in most sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. This is as the ripple benefits of inclusion promises to enhance the abilities of poor families and individuals to minimise financial shocks, undertake human capital investments in health and education and/or engage in modest asset accumulation in order to take advantage of promising investment opportunities in their economies.
In recent years, Sub-Saharan Africa’s financial inclusion numbers have steadily increased – primarily due to the development of digital financial services and forward-thinking financial institutions that implement inclusive business models. This welcome development is gradually engineering a sustainable financial market essential to eradicating poverty in the African continent and building shared prosperity.
Several analysts have argued that the key to unlocking the achievement of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which incudes inclusive growth, clean water and greater equality, among other objectives – is financial inclusion.
“Increasing account ownership would promote gender equality (SDG No. 5). Consider that poor women account for about 1.1 billion of unbanked adults, or most of the financially excluded. When savings accounts were offered to female market vendors in Kenya, their daily expenditure increased by 37%, relative to a comparable group of women who did not receive an account,” argued Leora Klapper, an author with Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP).
Recognising the opportunity to reshape Africa’s narrative, SSA’s largest financial institution, Access Bank PLC has through the years, remained one of the continent’s outstanding financial institutions at the forefront of financial inclusion, setting the pace with initiatives geared towards advancing the financial landscape of the continent.
Access Bank’s keen focus on impact can be roundly attributed to its sustainability ethos. The Bank implements a deliberate strategy for increased agency banking to reach unbanked segments by leveraging its internal and external stakeholders through its well-structured sustainability champion’s network; among others. Overall, sustainability is identified as a lever to achieving the Bank’s corporate vision and strategy and this drives the Bank to ensure a clear-cut competitive advantage.
“Over the past decade, our sustainability journey has led us to restructure our business operations and develop new strategies that aim to create a brighter future for our customers and the wider world. This journey has not been easy, but our commitment remains unwavering. It is, after all, the only approach that can deliver long-term prosperity,” explained Herbert Wigwe, Access Bank’s Group Managing Director.
In Nigeria and across the world, as governments were implementing strategic measures to reduce and mitigate the risk and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of which was the stay-at-home practice resulting in the closure of schools, offices and trading centers amongst others, Access Bank played a significant role in the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria, donating over N1billion to the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), an initiative championed by the Bank’s Group Managing Director, Herbert Wigwe, alongside the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele and Aliko Dangote.
CACOVID is a coalition of Nigerian private sector leaders who have come together to galvanise urgent support in the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria, complementing the government’s efforts. Thus far, the Coalition has been able to raise over ₦35billion, contributed by more than 70 organisations and individuals in the private sector, including Access Bank, whose head office served as the Coalition’s Secretariat.
As part of its move to flatten the curve, CACOVID has provided treatment, testing, training and isolation centres across the country as well as donated various medical equipment such as Oxygen Cylinders/Regulators, Monitors, Respirators, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), Thermometers, among others to all the 36 states in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The coalition also supplied the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) with over 60,000 testing kits to ramp up testing in Nigeria.
To cater to the need of Nigerians who have been affected by the lockdown in the country, CACOVID also unveiled a palliative drive to feed 1.7million households across the country, accounting for the most impoverished and underserved of Nigeria’s population.
In initiating groundbreaking social responsibility schemes, Access Bank wears many hats. Its involvement in various CSR initiatives has taken a significant investment of over N17.779 billion, with over 1,125 communities, reaching over 1.379 million people, and almost 420 NGOs impacted since 2018. Thus far in 2021, as Nigeria grapples with alarming statistics of unemployment and increased poverty rate, the Bank has shown no signs of slowing down in playing a vital role in people development.
Access Bank also took a novel, sustainable approach to financial inclusion. To ensure children were both engaged and educated, Access Bank partnered with 9iJa Kids – a Nigerian EduTech company – to deliver online financial literacy and educational gamification modules to children. The programme delivered six gamified educational learning modules which were hosted on the Bank’s website over a twelve-week period while the lender also introduced an exciting reward system that saw the top five players on the weeky leaderboard win prizes that were redeemed through their Access Bank Early Savers account. This module the Bank introduced to encourage early savings culture among children.
The first SDG highlighted by the UN is perhaps as exciting as it is overwhelming: End extreme poverty. Per reports from the World Bank, over 3.4 billion people – about half of the world’s population – live on less than US$5.50 a day. However, the challenges that ultra-poor households face go beyond low income alone as poorer households are less likely to be banked, another factor that can contribute to their being stuck in a poverty trap. While financial inclusion is one part of the solution, the array of challenges facing ultra-poor households requires a multi-faceted approach to foster a sustainable transition to more secure livelihoods and an exit from poverty.
One of the initiatives introduced by Access Bank to combat this grim reality is the Access Evergreen Account – a special banking product targeted at the African continent’s senior citizens aged 60 and above. This product offers priority treatment to all senior citizens with packages such as; free debit cards and cheque books, zero COT, free transaction notifications, no minimum opening balance, networking amongst other engagement opportunities.
In 2020, the Bank went the extra mile with its reward campaign tagged, ‘Awoof Berekete’, to promote financial inclusion in Nigeria. The campaign, which had the target to formally bank 65 million Nigerians, was designed to support and promote the Nigerian government’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS), launched in 2012 to reduce the percentage of financially excluded citizens to 20% by 2020.
Additionally, the bank’s popular Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) code, *901#, has made it possible for individuals in semi-urban and rural communities to access financial services using their mobile phones and more importantly, without internet access. This mobile service also acts as a bridge to reach the previously financially excluded citizens, thereby improving their lives through economic activities. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the introduction of the USSD code has proven itself a useful tool for enabling financial inclusion due to its low operating costs and banking fees – compared to traditional banking methods.
In line with its mission to be Africa’s gateway to the world, Access Bank deployed AccessAfrica, a Payment product designed to simplify Global payments by Person to Person (P2P), Business to Business (B2B), Person to Business (P2B), and Government to Person (G2P). AccessAfrica enables efficient and effective transfers, including but not limited to school fees, merchant, e-commerce, trade, and diaspora worker payments. The product allows customers to initiate payments in the local currency of the initiating jurisdiction or US Dollars (USD) while the beneficiary receives a direct credit to his account or cash in the local currency or USD in line with local procedures.
Access Bank’s commitment to sustainability stands it out from other commercial banks in-market. This has paid huge dividends, particularly last year during the epidemic. Despite the continuous need to understand and manage the uncertainties that came with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Access Bank proactively developed effective and timely solutions to guarantee zero disruption in service delivery to all stakeholders. Last year, Access Bank became the first African commercial bank to be granted sustainability certification by the European Organisation for Sustainable Development (EOSD) under its Sustainability Standards and Certification Initiative (SSCI).
As the link between financial inclusion and development has been established, private institutions and governments alike should keep pushing for more access to and use of financial services. Without a doubt, Access Bank is positioned to continue with its sustainability leadership and implement innovative financial inclusion services to improve the lives of its customers across Africa.
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