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Nigeria is finally turning to telcos to drive financial inclusion through mobile money

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, with a population of some 200 million people, has long been one of the big hopes for mobile money and financial inclusion evangelists.

And yet, until very recently, it seemed its government and regulators were reluctant to listen to the proverbial “good word.”

Financial inclusion in East Africa has been significantly impacted by the wide adoption of mobile money services—led by Kenya— but the uptake has been slow in Africa’s two largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa.

While South Africa’s more advanced economy often treats mobile money as a “nice to have”, the situation in Nigeria is quite different.

There, just 40% of people have bank accounts, so the economy would likely get a boost from the expansion of mobile money services.

The regulatory caution and conservatism often blamed for holding Nigeria back finally looks set to change with the central bank reversing a longstanding stance on declining to issue mobile money licenses to telecoms operators.

In the wake of the central bank’s change in tack, MTN, Nigeria’s largest telecoms operator, with more than 60 million customers, has launched its MoMo Agent mobile money service.

And, on the back of a $1.2 billion funding boost last year, Airtel Nigeria, Nigeria’s third largest operator, is expected to follow suit.

9Mobile and Globacom, the country’s two other major operators, have also reportedly been issued licenses to become payment service banks.

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