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Standard Chartered Bank to reduce branch network by 50% in Nigeria, focus on digital banking

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Standard Chartered Bank plans to close about 50 percent of its Nigerian branches as the lender moves to expand its digital operations in the country.

According to a Bloomberg report, quoting people familiar with the matter, the decision to downsize its operations in the country was triggered by increase competition from mobile money providers.

The London-listed lender’s local unit already started to shut some offices in December and would eventually operate only 13 branches in the West African nation, down from about 25 previously.

However, analysts said this will mean masssive job loss in the industry, where frangile economy has reduced capacity to recruit new hands into the sub-sector.

Standard Chartered is instead strengthening mobile banking and recruiting agents to reach new customers and handle cash deposits and withdrawals across Africa’s biggest economy, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorised to speak publicly.

A spokesperson for the bank declined to comment and said it would address future plans at the “appropriate time.”

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The shift by the bank mirrors efforts by Nigerian lenders to embrace digital banking amid a fintech boom that’s put much of Africa at the cutting edge of the revolution in mobile money.

Instead of opening more physical branches, banks including Access Bank and First Bank of Nigeria are also curbing costs by building networks of authorised agents, or people within communities to sell their products and services.

Standard Chartered has focused on corporate banking since establishing a presence in Nigeria in 1999.

But it recently looked to expand its retail base and outlined a target in 2019 to grow the number of its customers fivefold from 100,000 in about two years by using digital technology to on-board clients faster.

The lender also plans to start digital lending to process small loans quicker and increase the volume of retail credit, according to the people.

With a population of over 200 million people, of which more than a third have no access to financial services, Nigeria has seen an explosion in demand for payment solutions and lending outside traditional banking.

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