Following the growth and explosion of cell phone ownership and usage across Africa since 2002, the potential of mobile phones as not just a tool for communication, but as a tool for financial inclusion and promoting efficient payment systems cannot be ignored. This can be seen in the evolution of fintech companies focused on enabling ease of saving, receiving, spending, as well as conducting efficient payment transactions through mobile phones in the likes of; Paga Mobile, MTN’s Momo, Kudi Mobile, UBA Moni Agent, Polaris Sure Padi, e.t.c
To regulate fintech startups within the above sector, the Central Bank of Nigeria, issued the Guidelines on Mobile Money Services in Nigeria, 2015. This Guideline however, restricts mobile money transactions to local currency transactions within Nigeria as there was no provision/ structure for international money transfers via mobile phones and other hand held devices. In other to address this gap, and based on representations by stakeholders on the need for foreign exchange transactions via mobile applications, the CBN approved the inclusion of mobile money as part of international transfer services in Nigeria. To this effect, the CBN released the Guidelines on International Mobile Money Remittance Service in Nigeria (2015), to complement the existing Guidelines.
In our previous article on How to set up International Money Transfer Services in Nigeria, we stated that there are four options/categories of licenses to be obtained for carrying out Money Transfer Services in Nigeria, which are:
- Mobile Money (MM) License
- International Money Transfer Service (IMTS) License
- International Mobile Money Remittance Service (IMMRS) License
- Payment Service Bank (PSB) License
Each of the above licenses are governed by various guidelines as provided for by the CBN. For the purpose of this article, we would restrict our focus on the requirements for obtaining an International Mobile Money Remittance Service License in Nigeria.
SCOPE OF SERVICES TO BE PROVIDED BY INTERNATIONAL MOBILE MONEY REMITTANCE SERVICE OPERATORS IN NIGERIA.
As stated earlier, the relevant guideline regulating the operations of International Mobile Money Remittance Service Operators is the CBN Guidelines on International Mobile Money Remittance Service in Nigeria, 2015. Under this guidelines, the permissible activities/services of IMMRS shall consist of inbound and outbound transactions.
- For inbound remittances: Permissible activities are restricted to receipt of monies transmitted via mobile phones and other hand held devices to persons resident in Nigeria and foreign visitors.
- For outbound remittances: Permissible activities are restricted to transfer of monies from home country (i.e Nigeria) to beneficiaries in other countries for purposes of family maintenance. Accordingly, International Mobile Money Remittance Services is targeted towards individual customers only and does not permit corporate transactions.
CBN LICENSE APPROVAL REQUIREMENTS FOR PROVIDING INTERNATIONAL MOBILE MONEY REMITTANCE SERVICES IN NIGERIA
As provided by the Guidelines, Institutions seeking to offer International Mobile Money Remittance Services (IMMRS) in Nigeria shall apply and obtain a valid approval from the CBN. To obtain an approval from the CBN, an applicant must hold a valid Mobile Money Operator’s License (also issued by the Central Bank) in Nigeria as well as fulfill other conditions. They are:
- The institution must be a registered entity, licensed in its home country to carry on money transfer activities. Foreign companies that wish to carry on the business of IMMRS in Nigeria, and has been licensed in their home countries need not be licensed by the CBN. However, they must obtain an approval from the CBN to enable them provide such service in Nigeria.
- Have a minimum net worth of US$1billion (one billion US Dollars), as the latest audited financial statement, or as may be determined by the CBN from time to time. This requirement is strictly for foreigners wishing to engage in the business in Nigeria. For Nigerians coming into the market; see The Central Banks Nigeria Guidelines on the requirement for engaging in Mobile Money Services in Nigeria.
- Should hold a valid Mobile Money Operator’s License
- The institution should be well established (operating in at least twenty countries with at least 10 years’ experience) in the money transfer business, with a track record of operation.
- There should be a memorandum of understanding that clearly set out the liabilities in the event of disputes/ or process failures.
- Be in partnership with an authorized dealer bank licensed in Nigeria.
Providing International Mobile Money Transfer Services in Nigeria, requires involvement of various participants in carrying out such transaction. Each of these participants have their roles and responsibilities as required by the CBN Guidelines. They are:
- International Mobile Money Remittance Service Operators- These are financial companies usually, not banks licensed to undertake money remittance business. They engage in cross border transfer of funds, facilitating international remittances.
- Bank- A deposit taking institution duly licensed by the CBN, as such they hold and manage credit accounts for international mobile money remittance operators, ensure that the International Funds Remittance over mobile payment service meets all specified mobile payments standards and as well as provide financial clearing and settlement services to the mobile payment system.
- Infrastructure providers- These are organizations providing infrastructure/technology that enable message exchange, switching, processing and settlement facilities for mobile money services.
- Mobile Network Providers- These are telecommunication companies. They provide network connections that enable international funds remittance over mobile devices as well as ensure that a secure communication channel based on the minimum technology standards are followed.
- Consumers- They are the end users. They also have roles they discharge as provided in the Guidelines.
BUSINESS/OPERATIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR INTERNATIONAL MOBILE MONEY REMITTANCE SERVICES IN NIGERIA
Given the peculiar and technical nature of the service provided by the IMMRS, the guidelines provide rules for standard system operation to be followed by institutions who wishes to engage in this line of business to ensure accountability and efficient delivery in the interest of end users. Some of these operational requirements are provided below. Financial institutions authorized to provide IMMRS shall:
- Be issued a unique code by the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement Scheme (NIBSS) for managing interoperability.
- Be issued unique short codes by the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC).
- Ensure that all telecommunication equipment is type approved by the NCC.
- Register users of its scheme based on technology standards and the requirements of these Guidelines.
- Ensure that the registration processes within its International Funds Remittance Scheme shall fulfil the entire Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements specified in these Guidelines.
- Display the summary of transaction requested to the user for confirmation which shall include the phone numbers of the initiator and receiver, transaction description, the transaction amount, date and time and a unique transaction identifier.
- The user commits to the transaction by confirming the summary.
- Provide the user option to save transaction summary.
- Ensure open completion of the transaction, that the user receives an electronic confirmation.
- Regulatory authorities shall have transaction log.
- Ensure that all transfers are subjected to the sanction screen platform.
All International Mobile Money Remittance Service operators are expected to file their statutory returns at the end of every month and not later than the 10th day of the following month. They are to further submit to the CBN data and other information on international mobile money operations including:
- Nature, value and volume of transactions;
- Incidents of fraud; and
- Nature and number of customer complaints and remedial measures taken.
International Mobile Money Remittance Service are also expected to include in their annual reports and accounts in the prescribed format, all activities of its mobile money operations.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES FOR NON COMPLIANCE WITH THE CBN GUIDELINES?
To ensure compliance with it guidelines, the CBN places both remedial measures as well as sanctions against defaulting operators. Where an International Mobile Money Remittance Service operator or its fails to comply with these guidelines, the CBN may take any corrective action against such operator as may it may prescribe from time to time.
In addition to the above, the bank may impose any or all of the following sanctions against an operator, its board of directors, officers or agents:
- Withhold corporate approvals.
- Financial penalties.
- Suspension from international mobile money operation; and
- Revocation of the mobile money operation license.
International remittances are critical to the livelihood millions of people in the developing world. The inclusion of mobile payments for international remittances in the Nigerian financial space, is a commendable achievement as the system has proven to be more convenient and a flexible payment channel. This is in view of the fact that the traditional means of sending international funds through the banking system is expensive for low income earners, coupled with the slow process involved in completing the system.
Diaspora remittances in Nigeria are made accessible to users through the services of International Mobile Transfer Services operators and given the new opening for inclusion of mobile transfers for international remittances in Nigeria, there is no doubt that it remains at the moment, a lucrative venture to be explored.
Although the huge capital demand could stand as a restraining force for many, there is no doubt that there are other cost effective legal options available aspirants who wish to operate within this sector could explore to gain access to the Nigerian market. If you would like to gain more insight on the legally available cost effective options, you may reach out to us here or HERE and we would be delighted to assist you in this regard.