What’s killing financial inclusion in Nigeria?

Financial inclusion in Nigeria falls short because products lack accessibility and affordability, ignoring basic needs like free transactions. Understanding the needs of the poor is key to an effective design.

No scholar worth his salt would denigrate his study in the first line, or on any other line for that matter. However, listen carefully, take what I’m going to say below with a pinch of salt as it’s based on armchair projections.

But then who cares?

We are quite a lot in Nigeria, or so says the official and derivative stats. I really don’t buy into the numbers but then nobody gives two flying horse legs about my opinions. With about 180 million hungry souls crammed within the national border, only about 30 million accounts are there in the 20+ odd banks.

Considering that nobody in Nigeria is faithful to anything, especially to their banks, I know finding unique bank customers could slash the numbers down to about 20M. Just a hunch, don’t quote this for your PhD!

The Central Bank of Nigeria, other NGOs and do-good money bags have tried all they could with financial inclusion but it ain’t just hitting that sweet spot. Banks were corralled into the deal, and we came up with Prepaid Cards and Mobile Wallets. Both had as much success as the Zepellin.

On a quiet Sunday morning, after the rain has done about 3 rounds, much more than middle-aged men can cope with these days, I thought about what could have made all the efforts, the bankers, the CBN, flounder like a pricked balloon.

It was just simple. Financial inclusion designed by rich bankers and their friends in Brioni suits just don’t work.

Why? Because financial inclusion products should be accessible and affordable. Unfortunately, they are not.

This is best underscored by a recent conversation I had with one of my banker friends designing a saving product where artisans and others can pay N100 a day to save about N1,000 using their phones. I was like, what the F? I wouldn’t even do that on a regular account!

Which brings us to why the fancy financial inclusion schemes never work. Most were designed with absolutely no idea of what poor people want. But then ain’t difficult to find out, they want basic and affordable financial products.

They want free cash in/cash out.

They want free balance inquiry.

They want free bill payments.

They really don’t give two rats’ legs about cost of transaction.

Oh my, they don’t keep money in balances because like we all know, you can only save when you can afford to. When you live off less than $1 a day, which 70% of us are anyway (who did the enumeration?) you can’t afford to save. When you earn less than N50K a month and you have mouths hungrier than young birds to feed, you can’t save.

So dear banker, if the poor can’t save, there isn’t going to be any float.

If you don’t get any of these above, you can’t design products for poor people, bottom of the pyramid or financial inclusion.

This isn’t Davos, so get off your high horse dude!