Connecting rural Nigerians to financial services
Huawei, fets, create an alternative to withdraw cash in Nigeria during COVID
(April 2023) In May 2020, a small shop on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria, put up some posters advertising a new product. The ads described a mobile wallet allowing users to access banking services through their smartphone. Within minutes, customers were inquiring about the offer.
On the street, the Huawei and fets solution looks like this
Over half of adults in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, have a bank debit card. But there aren’t that many ATMs, meaning that getting cash can be time consuming. During the lockdowns and bank closures imposed in early 2020 during the COVID pandemic, access to cash became near impossible for large segments of the population.
This is when Huawei came in. It worked with fets, a local partner that is Nigeria’s top supplier of mobile money services. Drawing from Huawei’s experience with mobile money in China, they developed a solution adapted to the needs of Nigerians during Covid. It hasn’t changed Nigeria’s cash-based economy, but it’s made it much easier to withdraw money.
The solution allows bank card holders to withdraw cash not only from ATMs, but also from designated agents in shops equipped with POS terminals. By scanning a code with their phone, users can withdraw cash from their bank accounts. In return for the service, licensed shops earn a reasonable handling fee, making the service a win-win situation for both agents and bank users.
A customer (right) and POS agent
While fets already provided mobile money services, the critical upgrade made during COVID allowed settlements to be made in real time, rather than two days later as used to be the case. Instant settlement makes things far easier for consumers, shops, and banks. It opened the way for far broader adoption of mobile money in Nigeria.
fets and Huawei launched the solution in the early days of the pandemic. By April 2020, they had deployed hundreds of POS terminals, mostly in the southeast where Lagos is located. By the end of 2020, a total of about 3,000 POS terminals were deployed, serving two million users. When people’s movements were restricted by lockdowns, this was almost a life saver.
Expanding the service
In Nigeria, the government provides welfare payments to families in need. During the pandemic, it also launched a pandemic relief fund to support those whose income had plummeted as a result of the lockdowns. But the money was transferred directly into the debit cards of recipients, who then faced the challenge of accessing the cash. To solve the problem, fets and Huawei sent out to rural communities teams equipped with POS terminals and accompanied by armored trucks loaded with cash. In 2020, the teams visited nine states, distributing money to hundreds of thousands of families. Many residents were overwhelmed by emotions after receiving their money, causing many to sing, dance, or break into tears.
COVID cash distribution
The fets system has changed many Nigerians lives. Olaide, who lives in the state of Kano in the north of the country, used to travel about 10 kilometers to withdraw money sent by her husband working in Lagos. In addition to inconvenience, carrying large amounts of cash was unsafe. This is no longer an issue. "The fets agent is right in our village, so withdrawing money is now both convenient and safe," says Olaide. And meanwhile, the terminal franchisees are also satisfied. "We not only earn decent agent fees, but as more people come visit us to withdraw money, our business grows,” says Yusuf, a fets service provider. “Our shop now earns twice as much as before."
A woman getting COVID cash