The path to financial inclusion is strewn with both marketplace barriers and opportunities. But the push in this direction continues because of the proof that an increase in economic activities, even, among the financially vulnerable, can resuscitate a comatose economy. For Nigeria, the last three years have seen significant growth of the financial inclusion rate from 56.8% in 2016 to 63.2% in 2018.

The First Bank’s *894# USSD banking service is playing a key role in this growth. This banking initiative is already averaging about 99 million transactions monthly, with a naira worth of (N’m) 370,543. This figure includes the undergraduate doing a mobile airtime recharge; the trader receiving a mobile payment from a customer; the IT person hurriedly buying a data bundle to keep business afloat; the anxious father paying his daughter’s hospital bills for treatment to commence, and the busy worker in Lagos transferring money to his parents in the village since he cannot get to a banking hall.

This is just a rough sampling of the financial transactions that amounted to over N3.6 trillion in transaction value on the *894# USSD banking service in 2020. There is practically no financial emergency where the USSD service does not come in. The solution the First Bank *894# USSD service provides to a series of banking needs explains the rapid traction it has gained since it was introduced in 2015.

It is easy to see Nigerian’s confidence in the USSD system, with the bank rapidly growing from 9.5 million customers on the USSD feature to 12.26 million customers within the last year. Over 1.02 million customers registered in the first 6 months of 2021. The first and perhaps the most attractive feature of USSD banking is that it can be done from any kind of phone and without any form of internet connectivity.

Although the use of Smart phones is increasing, however, with the high poverty rate, many Nigerians cannot access internet banking. The internet penetration in Nigeria is still below the ideal, so users have to deal with poor internet connections in some areas. That is why this kind of banking service that can be accessed without internet connectivity is ideal in the financial inclusion drive. The *894# USSD feature can be used across the four major GSM network operators in the country, meaning there is no added demand on the users. Getting started on the service is as easy as dialing *894*0#, and creating a pin.

Then, you can do airtime and data purchase for yourself and other parties, transfer funds to other accounts, make a BVN enquiry, check your account balance and get a mini statement.

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