RETHINKING AGENCY BANKING WITH NEW INNOVATIONS IN NIGERIA
Few weeks ago, I attended a national financial services agency forum, organized by one of the leading industry players in Nigeria with very impressive attendance from agency services providers, nationwide.
The venue was filled up with enthusiastic agents but with significantly eroded transactional abilities, due to operational challenges that is affecting their service delivery at the last mile and causing significant friction, with customers.
It was a complains galore for the agents as they churn out different negative experiences, disappointments linked to poor support services arising from failed transactions, delayed and inadequate reconciliation processes, poor support from providers etc.
Agency banking is provisioning of basic financial services such as cash deposit, cash withdrawal, fund transfer, bills payment etc through third party agents, within communities. They deploy own resources like cash, outlets etc while the service provider, will provide items such as branding materials etc. Point of sale devices are provided by service providers and in some instances, paid for by the agents but recently, some providers are issuing them at no cost.
The agency network is the distribution network, front-end and customer facing entities which require significant resources to build, manage and cultivate.
Cost of building these networks can be significant for many operators if the overall strategy of the provider, is not well defined and it becomes more complex as they reach new geographies, requiring diverse implementation plans.
While the ultimate for service providers, is to unlock the customer value, by enabling them convert cash to electronic value and use the services themselves but the agent as the middle-Man, wants to keep the customers locked into over-the-counter transactions so that, they can continuously, earn fees.
The agent has no compelling reason to educate the customer to acquire and learn how to use the wallet. It’s a loss for the agent whereas the Banks are banking on this front-end partner to provide that education and conversion. There could be value for agents if the providers can rethink their commissioning strategy that gives the agent some long-term value for converting customers to wallet users with consideration for residual commissions strategies etc.
Shared agency is visible at the front-end but disaggregated at the back-end with locked-in, float accounts. At the front end, the POS will accept any Bank card issued in Nigeria seamlessly but at the back end, the agent may have multiple agency agreements, so the agent keeps multiple float accounts with multiple providers which fragments His total e-float inventory which is, inefficient. The agent may need to keep switching transaction devices, re-balancing different float accounts, frequently.
AGENTS ARE WORKING, BLINDLY
From the various complaints of the agents at the event, it was evident that the agents had not been well equipped aside the almighty Point of sale device which most providers think as the ultimate, in setting up and activating agents.
Operational issues had to be reported through telephone or email to back-office, transaction reconciliation issues must be supported with POS prints-out which might have faded, missing etc.
Delayed resolution period to resolve agent transaction issues, leading to customer dissatisfaction and sometimes intervention by security personnel and sometimes, loss of agent funds.
A well-equipped agent will save the provider significant time and resources by using digital and innovative tools provided by the provider to manage day-to-day operations in an innovative manner, that adds value to the entire value chain.
THE AGENT DASHBOARD
Agency dashboard provides actionable transaction data, which is used to manage customer transaction outcomes, identify and isolate issues which will then increase efficiency and performance of the agents.
The dashboard will enable agents to have simple, intuitive and secure interaction with all their transactions channels like POS, Mobile money transaction data etc via a single interface. It provides critical operational functions that will enable the agent to transact effectively and securely which will then improve the customer trust and overall experience.
The dashboard reduces the agent’s support cost with agents having visibility on some transaction data via their dashboard and increase up-time and performance.
Agents will be able to report suspicious transaction timely for flagging by the service providers thereby reducing losses, arising from fraud etc.
It will help the providers to reach agents in a timely and efficient manner if there is a ‘run’ on the system.
Agents can deliver improved services which reduces agent and customer friction and improves the customer experiences.
It’s a major win for agents to be able to work more effectively and efficiently in stressful, street-level “Ojuelegba” environments.
For agent banking to prosper in Nigeria, forward thinking and innovative providers, can deliver innovative directions that can empower the agent network with effective tools (front and bank-end) that can drive Nigeria’s match into the digital financial services era.