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As part of efforts to promote financial inclusion and enhance access to financial services for low income earners and the unbanked, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is proposing the establishment of Payment Service Banks in rural areas across the country.

This is coming as the apex bank says it may alter the amount it has ordered South African telecoms firm, MTN to refund to Nigeria for illegally repatriating funds from the country.

To this end, the CBN has released the draft guidelines for the regulation of the proposed banks.

A copy of the document was obtained on the CBN’s website yesterday.

A major difference between the proposed banks and the defunct community banks is that the new rural banks would not be allowed to grant any form of loans, advances and guarantees.

By the guidelines, they are expected to have a minimum capital base of N5 billion with capital adequacy ratio of 10 per cent or as may be prescribed by the CBN from time to time.

The objective of the proposed institutions, it was gathered, is to enhance financial inclusion in rural areas by increasing access to deposit products, payment and remittance services to small businesses, low-income households and other entities through high-value transactions in a secured technology-driven environment.

In terms of structure, the payment service banks are expected to operate mostly in rural areas and unbanked location, with not less than 50 per cent physical points in such areas.

In addition, they are expected to establish ATMs in some areas; be at liberty to operate through banking agents; use other channels, including electronic platforms to reach-out to its customers and establish coordinating centres in clusters of outlets to superintend and control the activities of various access points and banking agents.

Also, the guidelines provide that these rural banks are expected to be technology-driven and are expected to conform to the best practices of data storage; security and integrity.

According to the central bank, activities they are expected to undertake include, “Maintain savings accounts and accept deposits from individuals and small businesses, which shall be covered by the deposit insurance scheme.

“They are to carry out payments and remittance (including inbound cross-border personal remittances) services through various channels within Nigeria; issue debit and pre-paid cards and operate electronic purse.”

These rural banks are also permitted to invest in federal government and CBN’s securities and carry out such other activities as may be prescribed by the central bank from time to time.

On the other hand, the central bank listed the non-permissible items the banks shall not carry out to include, “grant any form of loans, advances and guarantees; trade in foreign exchange market; undertake any other transaction, which is not prescribed in the CBN Regulation on the Scope of Banking and Ancillary Matters, No. 3, 2010.”

The banks are also required to use the words ‘Payment Service Banks,’ in their names to differentiate them from other financial institutions.

“The promoters of payment service banks shall be required to submit a formal application for the grant of a payment service bank licence addressed to the Governor of the CBN,” the CBN said.

The guidelines also stipulate that they are expected to pay a non-refundable application fee of N500,000 in bank draft as well as a detailed business plan or feasibility report, among others.

“Not later than six months after obtaining an Approval-in-Principle, the promoters of a proposed Payment Service Bank shall submit application for the grant of a final licence to the CBN,” it stated.

The application is to be accompanied among other things, with a non-refundable licence fee of N2 million.

Meanwhile, the Governor of CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has said that the apex bank may alter the $8.134 billion fines imposed on MTN Nigeria for illegal repatriation of funds from the country.

Reuters quoted Emefiele as saying this yesterday in London.

“I don’t think it will be staying at $8.1 billion. This issue will be dealt with amicably and equitably,” he said.

Emefiele said the central bank had received documents from MTN and four banks involved in the case.

“The central bank will be examining these; then it will be escalated up to my level,” he said.

He said he expected to get the results in a couple of weeks.

The central bank filed a counter-claim on Friday to a court request by MTN, which is seeking to stop the bank from forcing it to bring back the money, according to MTN’s lawyer.

Emefiele also said Nigeria’s central bank would continue to intervene in the foreign exchange markets, adding that he believed in a stable exchange rate regime.

Nigeria’s current stance of monetary tightening would continue, he said.

The central bank had alleged in August that MTN and four banks, Standard Chartered Bank, Citibank, Stanbic IBTC Plc and Diamond Bank Plc, illegally repatriated the sum out from the country.

MTN Nigeria thereafter went to court to challenge the directive of the CBN. In a suit at the Federal High Court, MTN Nigeria had prayed the court to restrain the CBN from taking further action in respect of the order.

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