Bharti Airtel’s Nigeria unit became the latest operator to unveil plans to launch its own mobile money platform, as authorities in the country prepare to relax regulations on telecommunications companies supplying banking services.

In an interview with The Cable, Airtel Nigeria managing director Segun Ogunsanya said the company would apply for a Payment Service Bank (PSB) licence and subsequently launch services designed to drive financial inclusion across its 40 million-strong customer base.

The revelation comes weeks after MTN Group CEO Rob Shuter announced his company planned to launch its own standalone mobile money services in the country during 2019.

In October, the Central Bank of Nigeria unveiled draft proposals to licence a number of PSBs in an attempt to improve financial inclusion rates in rural areas of the country.

Under existing regulation, mobile money services need to be supplied in collaboration with a company holding a full banking licence, which were only issued to traditional financial service providers.

However, new rules mean mobile operators will be eligible to provide PSB services through subsidiaries. The sector will also be opened to other companies meeting a specific range of terms.

The licences will come with a number of conditions: a majority of operations must cover rural and currently unbanked areas; ATMs and service centres must be established; and providers have to offer services through banking agents.

Activities allowed include: domestic and international remittance; deposits; payments; digital wallets; and issue of prepaid cards. PSBs will be prohibited from providing loans, foreign exchange trading and insurance services, among others.

All brands must also use the term PSB in branding to differentiate from other forms of bank.