The Bankers Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Thursday said 57 million Nigerians, which represents 66 per cent of the population, now have access to financial services.
The Director, Banking Supervision Department, CBN, Mrs Tokunbo Martins, made this known when she briefed newsmen at the end of the committee’s meeting in Abuja.
She was accompanied by the Managing Director, Access Bank Plc, Mr Herbert Wigwe; the Managing Director, Standard Chartered Bank, Mrs Bola Adesola; and the Managing Director Diamond Bank Plc, Mr Uzoma Dozie.
“One of the major issues we discussed is the issue of financial inclusion. It is very important for 170 million Nigerians to have some form of access to financial services and so I am happy to report that there has been substantial improvement.
“You know a couple of years back, the number of Nigerians financially included was at 40 per cent but currently we have 66 per cent of Nigerians financially included which is about 57 million Nigerians.
“The target that we are working on is 68.5 per cent by the end of December 2016 and so if that target is achieved, I think we would have gone a long way in alleviating the sufferings if Nigerians,” she said.
Martins said the North East region remained the most challenging area when it comes to financial inclusion.
She said the CBN would deploy more resources to the region to increase the level of financial inclusion.
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Martins said also that within the last few months, the country had witnessed a significant increase in the demand for foreign exchange for payment of school fees and medical bills abroad.
She said the development was currently crowding out the demand for foreign exchange in the real sector such as manufacturing, agriculture, solid minerals among others.
She said that if left unchecked, the trend could affect the banking sector’s objective of stimulating the real sector of the economy through the provision of foreign exchange to productive sectors of the economy.
Commenting further on the pressure in the foreign exchange market, the Managing Director, Standard Chartered Bank, Mrs Bola Adesola, said there was need for Nigerians to make sacrifices and be patriotic in their activities.
“We need to focus on the real sector. That is the pain that we will need to go through today so that they would have long term development plan for the country.
“So our discussion around that is how we could prevent and reduce the crowding out of the real sector where there is increased demand on the invisibles and it is something the central bank and the bankers committee is looking at.
“The pressure on foreign exchange now from school fees abroad is significant. At what point do we begin to look inward?
“The pressure on medical is significant. At what point do we begin to look inward? And I think as Nigerians, we also need to be patriots in terms of our sentiments.
“We need to think about what do we need to sacrifice today for the long term benefit of the country and the economy and this feature significantly during our discussions,” she said.
Adesola said the decision by the banks to publish the list of those that have so far accessed foreign exchange at the official rate was done inorder to promote transparency in the foreign exchange market.
The Managing Director Diamond Bank Plc, Mr Uzoma Dozie, said the banking sector was currently working on how to increase the level of access to credit.
“We discussed the investments we made in BVN and how we can leverage on it to increase confidence in financial transaction and payment in Nigeria and also to reduce the cost of service to enable people to access credit.
“We believe that the investments that we made in the BVN will enable us to give our customers access to financing,” he said.
Dozie said there were plans to reduce the level of documentation of people who want to open account and make it cost effective for the banking sector.
He said the committee agreed the publication of list of debtors would help the banking industry to improve the level at which debtors are servicing their loans.