Lagos Business School has launched a research project to address the regulatory gaps and market structures disabling financial inclusion for poor unbanked Nigerians.
The launch of the project supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, took place at the Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island Lagos on Thursday.
It featured an interactive session with leaders drawn from the digital financial services industry.
Speaking at the programme, Enase Okonedo, dean, Lagos Business School, expressed delight over the project.
“Financial inclusion is a catalyst for economic development and growth and we are very excited about this project because access to financial services can improve the lives of the poor,” he said.
“With its unique voice, presence and networks in the Nigerian business community, LBS is positioned to play a catalytic role in increasing understanding of the business environment and possibilities for broadening the reach of low-cost digital payment systems, particularly in poor and rural areas.
Okoendo said LBS had established an international reputation for leading academic and industry-based research and progammes.
He pointed out that Nigeria was confronted with the challenge of building “the most vibrant and inclusive economy possible”, saying the objective of the project is to have 80 percent of Nigerians financially served by 2020.
“Currently, the country stands at 60percent coverage. There are numerous challenges to overcome if Nigeria is to meet its goal, at least 18 million new users of financial services must be signed on in the next four years,” he said.
“The project seeks to address this challenge by conducting research, stakeholder forums and sharing research findings which creates access to financial services for the poor, the rural poor in particular.”
Similarly, Olayinka David-West, academic director of LBS, said one of the targets of the project is to understand unique barriers Nigeria must overcome to achieve universal financial access.
“The goal of the project is to better understand how providers can bring digital financial services to Nigeria in a sustainable way, including studying specific business models, delivery and access constraints,” he said.
“It also seeks to understand unique barriers Nigeria must overcome to achieve universal financial access and inclusion and also examine the issue of distribution and how to design agent networks that are accessible and responsive to poor people.
It is to also employ research findings to support a national dialogue on what policies; if any need to change to enable digital financial services (DFS) providers reach the unbanked poor and achieve Nigeria’s goals of 80% financial inclusion.
“Secondly, the project will also develop an understanding of global and inclusive DFS models that show promise of profitability in serving the poor.
“This aspect of the project will be pursued through a student case competition that explores inclusive business models of DFS providers or institutions supported by sustainable DFS.
“Thirdly, the findings will be disseminated by execution of a strategic outreach plan to inform, build support, and promote actionable business models for inclusive digital financial services.”
Kosta Peric, deputy director of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the Foundation’s collaboration with LBS reflects the vision it has for Nigeria.
He said having an account or financial wallet is the rest step for the poor unbanked population, explaining that the problem with cash is not having a history of transactions.
“Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty,” he said.
“It seeks to ensure that all people, especially those with the fewest resources have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in life.”