Industry watchers may be tempted to see Agency Banking as a new wave of banking innovation but those who have been paying attention to the industry would know that Fidelity Bank has long tried, tested and honed excellence in the space of Agency Banking within the last half-decade.

Fidelity Bank was the first financial institution licensed by the Bank of Ghana to undertake Agency Banking in Ghana. Simply put, Agency Banking affords every Ghanaian the opportunity to access banking services wherever they are in the country, hence promoting financial inclusion. This model makes it possible for traditional banks to extend their reach cost-effectively, via authorized Agents across the country. Fidelity Bank calls its Agents, “Fidelity Bank Agents.”

In May 2014, when Edward Effah (Chairman) and Jim Baiden (former Managing Director) introduced Agency Banking, the Bank touted the initiative as part of its strategy to embed financial inclusion as a core part of its business model; i.e. “The Smart Way to Bank”.

The company offered eligible Ghanaians a full bank account in spite of limitations that previously excluded them. At that time, Fidelity’s promise to give customers a full bank account within five minutes of contacting its retail agents seemed ambitious at the most and an exercise in futility at the least. Proximity, convenience, and simplicity were the watchwords.

On the other hand, the company may have been fulfilling Ghana’s MAYA Declaration financial inclusion commitments made in Mexico, pledging to reduce the country’s financial exclusion rate.

Agency Banking is not without its challenges. Fidelity had to find solutions to reshape traditional Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements, enhance due diligence and mitigate the risks of linking Smartphone applications to deposit accounts. Local solutions for local people.

Looking back, after a three-month pilot, Fidelity opened 130,000 accounts with about 100 Fidelity Bank Agents and was optimistic that with 500 agents, it would open over a million accounts every year. Posterity proved Fidelity right after all.

Today, all customers of Fidelity Bank can use the services of an Agent across Ghana for all their banking needs. The bank has about 2000 Agents, and over 1000 commissionable Agents running on a Flexible Agent model, Master Agents, Agent Assistant. That in itself, an industry innovation for the books.

Furthermore, Fidelity made certain to keep the Agency Banking machinery well-oiled with technical and software advancements pushing better technology that allows flexible changes or upgrades. The bank drives a seamless user experience for both Agents and Customers with its new Agent Management System (AMS). Today, the 1 billion deposit mobilization agenda remains steadfast.

Beyond the numbers, the Bank values the regular engagement it has with its agents to reward them, network and brainstorm about the future, discussing client-centricity, liquidity management, customer relationship management, financial literacy, risk management, and compliance. Thus, the benefit of being a Fidelity Bank Agent is the financial literacy gained and shared. Agents may also double as financial literacy ambassadors of the Bank.

Fidelity Bank’s financial inclusion agenda is intentional. With the Bank named as the most socially responsible bank in Ghana by various bodies and institutions worldwide. Fidelity bank frequently collaborates and consults with partners such as GIZ, Financial Sector Deepening in Africa, (FSDA), and Genesis Analytics on improving access to formal banking for the over 15 million unbanked Ghanaians.

So what does Fidelity Bank’s Agency Banking teach us about financial inclusion?

– Financial inclusion must be a strategic business decision driven by a business unit to generate revenue and backed by senior leadership.

– Empower and involve agents who are on the ground, to activate financial inclusion.

– Find the innovation in the grassroots – financial inclusion provides alternatives to costly traditional financial systems.

– It takes dogged commitment, investment, and effort.

As more banks belatedly rush to enter the Agency Banking arena, they will need to innovate in an already innovative space to earn customers’ attention. For now, Fidelity Bank is poised to maintain its compelling leadership built upon a foundation of trust. Trust earned by being the only bank to be there for Ghanaians where they live and work. Fidelity Bank has proven its promises by incorporating financial inclusion in its business model.

If Fidelity Bank’s five-plus years of agency banking accomplishments are anything to go by, success in Ghana’s banking sector is for those willing to be inclusive by putting their customer’s interests first.

Likewise, the future of financial inclusion in Ghana will be led by institutions courageous enough to shake the comfort of regular business to understand the unique financial needs of the ordinary Ghanaian and pioneer customized solutions for them.

Fidelity Bank’s first mover advantage positions the company as a leader among the Ghanaian financial institution pack, especially given recent industry developments. The proof-points are clear, with the largest agency-network, product innovation and expertise; Fidelity has demonstrated that it is the benchmark for the industry.