Access Bank’s journey to becoming the gateway to Nigeria’s banking sector

Nigerian banks must continue to push the boundaries of innovation if citizens are to profit from the country’s transition to a digitalised financial system

Access Bank is committed to changing the face of the country's banking landscape, which is currently heavily cash-reliant. To do so, it is primarily focusing on digital banking solutions 

Over the past decade, Nigeria’s banking landscape has transformed from one that relies heavily on cash transactions to one that is driven by mobile payments and artificial intelligence (AI). In March 2019, the Central Bank of Nigeria revealed its plans to accelerate the digitalisation of the financial system by reintroducing a nationwide cashless policy scheme.

The scheme, which has been trialled at a local level since 2012, aims to reduce the amount of physical cash circulating the market by encouraging citizens to engage in digital transactions. It was the bank’s hope that this policy would drive the modernisation of Nigeria’s payments systems, reduce the cost of banking services and boost financial inclusion. So far, it has done just that.

For financial institutions operating across Africa, such developments have placed a greater emphasis on the digitalisation of products and services. With consumers increasingly on the lookout for easier and faster ways to send money and make payments, alternative banking channels are emerging in a bid to cash in on the implementation of digital policies.

Alternative banking channels are emerging in a bid to cash in on the implementation of digital policies

Smart solutions
Access Bank is working in line with these broader industry trends to deliver technology-driven banking solutions to its customers. Our mobile application, for example, offers cross-border transfers to subsidiaries in other countries, eliminating the need to send cash via traditional means. We also offer unstructured supplementary service data solutions that allow users to easily top up their mobiles and make utility payments without a smartphone.

The introduction of new technologies is allowing us to continually push the boundaries of innovation. Take our AI-powered chatbot, Tamada, for example: it offers customers online banking services in real time, no matter where they are or when they need them. It also provides an array of services, including investment advice, requests for instant loans and even the latest sports updates. Through Tamada, we are helping to change the perception of the banking industry, providing utilities that extend far beyond the services offered by conventional chatbots.

What’s more, with the use of social media on the rise across the country, Access Bank is taking measures to adapt its operations to new platforms. Through the recent introduction of WhatsApp banking, for example, customers can carry out basic transactions through the popular messaging platform.

Disrupt and conquer
The banking sector will face further disruption in the coming years, as digital-first companies create and adopt new technologies. This development will only be accelerated by the efforts of the Africa Fintech Foundry (AFF), which aims to invest in more than 50 start-ups over the next five years. With support from Access Bank, this pan-African tech hub works to provide solutions in sectors such as agritech, fintech, insurtech and edutech.

Access Bank intends to support the AFF as much as possible, providing state-of-the-art technological solutions and bringing together different sectors to chart the course of Africa’s digital future. As part of these efforts to boost innovation across the continent, the AFF hosts the AFF Disrupt Conference, Africa’s biggest fintech-orientated event. This annual gathering brings together investors, tech enthusiasts and start-ups from across the continent to provide tech-based solutions to problems that span a number of sectors.

Despite the ongoing digital transformation, there are several issues that still need to be addressed, including data privacy and confidentiality. This is especially important to financial institutions, as the onus in now on them to protect customers’ data from unauthorised entities. As such, Access Bank has created a security operations centre to detect, analyse and counter cybersecurity threats through the use of cutting-edge solutions and processes.

From strength to strength
Access Bank’s recent merger with Diamond Bank has bolstered these efforts, creating Africa’s largest bank by customer base and serving in excess of 29 million customers. By combining Access Bank’s strong treasury, risk management framework and corporate banking expertise with Diamond Bank’s robust retail and digital banking capabilities, we have created a financial institution that offers a full suite of tailor-made products and services.

Having made such strides in spite of economic headwinds, we have come to realise that our people are our greatest strength. They provide us with a competitive edge in a saturated market and, as such, we remain committed to their continued development. We provide a host of educational programmes to this end.

We believe that creating a bigger, more diverse organisation will help us boost financial inclusion in Africa, giving us the freedom to introduce products that meet the needs of the underbanked, while also delivering innovative solutions for individuals and corporations. By integrating the best of both banks’ systems, we have created a more extensive and efficient structure – one that will continue to support the bank in its aim to become Africa’s gateway to the world.