A report by the Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA) has revealed that Nigeria has recorded 51 per cent financial inclusion growth rate as against the expected 70 percent target in its 2020 National Financial Inclusion Strategy.
The report titled: 'Access to Financial (A2F) 2020,' survey findings which was launched by EFInA in Lagos during a virtual meeting, stated that 51 per cent of Nigerian adults used formal financial services, such as bank, microfinance bank, mobile money, insurance, or pension accounts, up from 49 percent in 2018.
It also noted that the 51 per cent growth was largely been driven by progress in banking with 45 per cent of Nigerians banked in 2020, up from 40 per cent in 2018, while only 64 per cent of Nigerian adults were financially included by the end of 2020.
This, it stated meant that 36 per cent of Nigerian adults, or 38 million adults, remained completely financially excluded.
The report noted that there were still large gaps in financial access for most financially excluded groups, noting that women continue to be more financially excluded than men, with only 45 per cent of women using formal financial services, compared with 56 per cent of men.
The report stated: "Adults in Northern Nigeria continue to be significantly more financially excluded than those in the southern zones, and rural adults are still more excluded than those in urban areas.
"Young adults, between the ages of 18-25, are significantly more likely than older adults to be financially excluded."
It is against this backdrop that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) disclosed that it would continue to be at the forefront of efforts to drive financial inclusion in Nigeria by championing the development and implementation of Nigeria's financial inclusion strategy
The CBN also said concerted efforts from stakeholders were needed to close the gap in financial access to ensure greater results in economic and social development.
Speaking at the meeting, CBN's Deputy Governor, Financial Systems Stability Directorate, Aishah Ahmad, said financial inclusion has become a global development initiative and was critical to bridging inequality, combat poverty and preserve social harmony.
Ahmad noted that Nigeria adopted a multi-pronged strategy focusing on removing barriers to financial access which to an extent have not only helped to reduce exclusion rates, but they have transformed payment systems.
"Despite progress today, I believe we still have much work to do as gaps in financial services remain especially with women - the Northern region and the rural areas.
"We need to focus efforts on deploying solutions that target these excluded groups. Last year was indeed very challenging for all economies due to the COVID-19 pandemic and while many households faced financial setbacks as a result of the pandemic, we saw the importance of digital financial services in helping them cope and helping them to be resilient," she said.
Corroborating the apex bank's Deputy Governor, the Chief Executive Officer, EFInA, Ashley Immanuel, noted that at Nigeria's current rate of progress, it may not reach the 2020 financial inclusion targets until around 2030.
According to her, the country can reach these targets much faster if it follows paths taken by other African countries that have seen rapid financial inclusion growth due to mobile money.
"EFInA's Access to Financial Services in Nigeria Surveys show that use of digital financial services and agent networks started to grow significantly between 2018 and 2020. Phone ownership has also increased, with 81 per cent of Nigerians now owning mobile phones.
"Now is the time to build on this initial progress and drive faster financial inclusion growth through digital financial services such as mobile money. We can do this by creating an open and level playing field for a wide range of providers, creating the right environment for fintech to thrive, and encouraging partnerships between different providers," Immanuel said.