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Nigeria financial services sector is resilient – Fisho

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Mr. Deji Fisho is the Director, Risk Asset Management Group, Treasury, Operations and Customer Service in Fortis Microfinance Bank. In this interview with Augustine Aminu, he spoke on the challenges in the financial institutions in Nigeria and the way forward.

How would you assess the health of the Nigeria banking industry especially the micro-finance sector?
We live in an inter-connected world. Nigeria is no island. There are a lot of issues in the global community which will naturally impact on our financial sector. However, we can say the Nigeria financial services sector is resilient. A lot is happening but we believe that with what government is doing the players and the industry will become stronger.
What is your view on cashless economy?
We believe in cashless economy. Here in Fortis, we have started to look at the issues and that is what led us to the implementation of what we now call Fortis mobile money. So, if we have done all that investment in that area, it means we believe in it. It is the way to go; it is the way of the future. We are not the only country that is doing it. Countries across the world are doing it. In the West, in the Gulf region, other African countries like Bostwana, Angola, Ghana, South Africa are doing it. It is the way to go. It’s got obvious advantages for the customers. You don’t have to carry cash. You are not a potential victim of robbery. It makes travel light and easy. It brings down cost for operators in the financial services. As we are going cashless, you don’t have to always set up bank branches, you sign-on agents, who can be super markets, filling stations, “mamaput”, hospitals, post offices and so on. So it will integrate the society. It is expected that it will bring cost down. It is also expected that it will open employment for all categories of people, directly and indirectly. So it has clear advantages. It is the most definite way to go.
What does the government need to put in place, to ensure smooth cashless society especially giving illiteracy level?
Mobile money is not a complicated process you don’t have to be educated to be able to operate your simple phone. So, to that extent, it will work. Government should strengthen infrastructure especially in the areas of power, ICT and telecoms. All these will impact on the quality of services that the customers of mobile money will eventually get. We also need to embark on public enlightenment and education across board. Government has to spend a bit more money in advertising and publicising the program.
The truth is that the early users for mobile money will be the people in the lower income strata and also the people in the suburbs. City dwellers and the elites already have some kind of solution at the moment for their funds. They are going to be the later users. Its ongoing, the journey is not a five or 10 years journey, but what is needed is commitment to what we have already started
How would you assess the ongoing banking reform?
We expect that the reform will enable the players in the sector to be able to intermediate more; to lend more; to provide more services for the customers at lower cost and accessibility. Those are the sorts of things to expect from the reforms. Hopefully in the days ahead we will see more of the outcome.
What have been the challenges so far in achieving these reforms?
Whatever challenge we face as a people, as a nation, they are not unique to us. That is the truth. People have faced challenges; people have overcome. We have got all kinds of example. We have got countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, china. You even now have the Gulf States that are beginning to make impact in the world. You have UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman. You also have countries in the African continent. You have Botswana, Kenya, and Ghana. What that says to us is that the challenges can be overcome. And not only with money; yes, we need some money, but we need the will power. We need purposeful leadership; we need compatriots who will support positive government policies. We need a people who are determined to pull themselves and their country from the challenges that we face. We are saying that these problems can be overcome. Other people have overcome theirs. So we can overcome ours. Again the statement of the problem is that everybody understand Nigeria problem: you talk of power, you talk of aviation you talk of health, and you speak of education. But the flip side is that all of these challenges also present opportunities.
It means that anybody who will look at education today, there is opportunity. If you look at health, finance, safety and security, education, construction, there are opportunities. Instead of focusing on the problems, we have got start to think of how we can turn the problem around into opportunities. Nigeria is a big market of a hundred and sixty million people; a lot of them young and vibrant. We just need to get a couple of things right and this country can easily as it has been predicted become one of the top 20 economies by 2020
Since you came on board, how would you describe the level of acceptability of your bank?
Micro finance is well suited to communities. There is no doubt that there is a whole lot more work to be done. Nigerians have been receptive. Micro finance formerly is new but in an informal sector it’s not new. Nigerians have been doing micro credit such as esusu ajo and those kind of things for many years.
What do you project for the Fortis micro finance banks in Nigeria?
I project that the bank should continue to play in that sector; to continue to add value and make a difference with the women. This is something that I hold close to my heart. This has to do with the development of vocation. Now, if you look at the figures, we have got about 70 per cent of the population that are 30 years and below; that will give you about 99 million Nigerians. That means we have lot of young people in the country. If we cultivate that population well, that is potential energy for the country. Now there are different ways to engage that segment of the society, however, two key areas come to mind. Agriculture and agro allied. That will be way to engage the youths. We must grow the ago allied sector. The agro allied sector is not limited only to farming. There is a value chain. It has to do with a whole range of things including packaging, herbicide, equipment, logistics, seeds and so on. It is a fairly long and deep value chain. Another area where we will engage our youth will be vocation. We need to be able to standardize the vocation such as plumbing, carpentry, tailoring, photography, electrical works. We must standardise them and encourage young people to go into these vocation whether they are educated or not. In particularly, we want to give serious attention to educated people so that you don’t have graduates without jobs.
Are you working on any project at the moment to achieve this?
Fortis is not government. It is going to be government that will lead the framework. But Fortis supports cooperatives in these areas. We support women in these areas. We train women and youth in literacy, in micro finance, in simple book keeping among others. But if we are going to be able to make a difference, we got to do a whole lot more because the issue is national. We are speaking of over 90 million youths. In Fortis and in other areas where I am involved, we will continue to do whatever it is we can do. I mentor youths. I teach free of charge in schools; just like we are giving back to the society. We are passionate about development in the country

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