Airtel Africa and MTN received approval in principal to start operating mobile money services in Nigeria, marking the first step towards obtaining final licences from the nation’s Central Bank.

The two operators announced the move in separate statements, highlighting its benefits for enhancing financial inclusion in the country.

Airtel Africa explained its subsidiary Smartcash has been granted an initial approval to run a payment service bank business in the market, however an operating licence for this depends on the group’s ability to satisfy “certain standard conditions” within six months.

CEO of Airtel Africa Segun Ogunsanya pledged the company will work “closely” with the Central Bank of Nigeria to meet its conditions and commence operations.

A final approval would mean the opportunity for Airtel Africa to expand its digital financial offerings and “reach the millions of Nigerians that do not have access to traditional financial services”.

MTN said its mobile money service MoMo also received an approval in principal for a licence application. The operator also affirmed commitment towards “the financial inclusion agenda” of the Central Bank and the government, and continued “to explore means whereby it can contribute to its fulfilment”.