The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) have released a framework on the pricing of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services.
From March 16, USSD charges per transaction would be N6.98, the regulatory institutions announced yesterday in a joint statement.
However, there is an outstanding accumulated charges of about N42 billion, which prompted the intervention of the Federal Government at the weekend, as stakeholders insisted that the time had come to find lasting solution to the matter.
According to the statement by the CBN and the NCC, the new price was the outcome of a meeting by the stakeholders. It noted that the meeting was chaired by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami.
The regulatory bodies acknowledged that “Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) have had protracted disagreements concerning the appropriate USSD pricing model for financial transactions”.
Signed by Acting Director of Corporate Communications, CBN, Mr Osita Nwanisobi and the Director of Public Affairs at NCC, Dr Ikechukwu Adinde, the statement added that the disagreements had “resulted in the accumulation of outstanding fees for USSD services rendered leading to potential service withdrawal by the MNOs”, adding that USSD remained a critical channel for delivering financial services, particularly for the underserved and/or financially excluded.
“To resolve the lingering dispute and ensure uninterrupted services to customers on this channel, the Minister for Communications and Digital Economy on March 15, 2021 chaired a meeting of key stakeholders to discuss an amicable resolution in the interest of the general public.
“Represented at the meeting were the various MNOs, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), DMBs (represented by the Chairman, Body of Bank CEOs) and the sector regulators — Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
“We are pleased to announce that after comprehensive deliberations on the key issues, a resolution framework acceptable to all parties was agreed thus:
“Effective March 16, 2021, USSD services for financial transactions conducted at DMBs and all CBN – licensed institutions will be charged at a flat fee of N6.98 per transaction.
“This replaces the current per session billing structure, ensuring a much cheaper average cost for customers to enhance financial inclusion.
“This approach is transparent and will ensure the amount remains the same, regardless of the number of sessions per transaction.
“To promote transparency in its administration, the new USSD charges will be collected on behalf of MNOs directly from customers’ bank accounts.
“Banks shall not impose additional charges on customers for use of the USSD channel.
A settlement plan for outstanding payments incurred for USSD services, previously rendered by the MNOs, is being worked out by all parties in a bid to ensure that the matter is fully resolved.
“MNOs and DMBs shall discuss and agree on the operational modalities for the implementation of the new USSD pricing framework, including sharing of Application Programme Interface (API) to enable seamless, direct and transparent customer billing.
“DMBs and MNOs are committed to engaging further on strategies to lower cost and enhance access to financial services.
“With the above resolutions, the impending suspension of DMBs from the USSD channel is hereby vacated. Therefore, DMBs shall no longer be disconnected from the USSD channel.
“The general public is reminded that the USSD channel is optional, as several alternative channels such as mobile apps, internet banking and ATMs may be used for financial transactions.
“The CBN and NCC shall continue to engage relevant operators and all stakeholders to promote cheaper, seamless access to mobile and financial services for all Nigerians.”
The House of Representatives yesterday urged telecom operators to halt the planned withdrawal and suspension of USSD services to the Nigerian and other financial institutions in the interest of Nigerians.
Adopting a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai, the House asked its Committee on Telecommunications to liaise with MNOs, NCC, CBN and Nigerian banks and other financial institutions with a view to resolving the impasse between the banks and the telecom operators.
Ossai said in a bid for CBN to realise one of its statutory mandates of promoting monetary stability and sound financial system , it designed a cashless policy that will provide innovations, easy mobile payment, cost reduction and convenient financial services to millions of Nigerians living in urban and rural areas.
According to him, one of the innovations introduced by the CBN was the USSD services which is used by Global System for Mobile Communication Technology to communicate with their service providers’ computers via text messages to check account balance or mobile airtime, generate bank statement or do fund transfer and data balance enquiries or to receive one-time passwords or pin codes.
He said the USSD service which is controlled by MNOs, is a critical infrastructure used to provide mobile financial services to banks and other financial institutions in cell phones at very low cost, without requiring access to the user’s SIM card.
He said between January to June 2020, the value of USSD transfer payment in Nigeria amounted to over N390billion (about $1billion).
He argued that since October, 2019, there has been a dispute between MNOs and the banks over who should pay for USSD service sessions, adding that the banks have always wanted the Telecommunication Operators to charge customers directly, while the operators insisted that the services were being offered to the banks and as such the banks should be the one to pay the operators.
He said between July and August 2020, the operators had an agreement with the Federal Ministry of Communications & Digital Economy and the NCC that Nigerian banks should pay the operators for the use Of USSD at an agreed individual price mechanism.
He expressed concern that the dispute between the operators and the banks has lingered for a long time to the extent that parties have been finger-pointing each other, adding that all efforts at resolving the dispute proved abortive and the debt kept increasing until it is presently N42 Billion.
He said the operators have issued a notice, threatening to withdraw and suspend the USSD service from the Nigerian banks starting from Monday, 15th of March, 2021.
He expressed concern that if the USSD service is withdrawn, users will fall back and continue with their old traditional modes and channels, such as mobile bank apps, internet banking, ATM, PoS, that makes banking services uninteresting, inconveniencing, with high cost of financial transactions, which will further put our health in danger as a result of crowding together.
He said the USSD service, made it an easiest route for non-telecommunication providers to deploy services to the poor people in Nigeria, stressing that the convenience the USSD brought into Nigeria financial business transactions, made its adoption and acceptability to grow at a very tremendous rate.