The conflict between Nigerian banks and mobile network operators over Unstructured Supplementary Data Services (USSD)’s charges has been resolved by the regulators of both telecom and banking sectors.
Money Deposit Banks and Mobile Network Operators had been on loggerhead over transaction fees for long. Last week, telcos announced they were going to cut the USSD service off from their platforms, prompting the intervention of the sector’s regulators, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy.
A statement issued by the regulators after an impromptu meeting the regulators held on Monday said the issue has been resolved, and a new framework is being developed to prevent such happenings in the future.
The resolution reached by the stakeholders of the industries who graced the meeting prohibits banks from imposing additional charges on USSD users, and directed that henceforth, all USSD sessions will be charged at a flat fee of N6.98 per transaction. It said that the new USSD charges will hence be collected on behalf of MNOs directly from customers’ bank accounts.
The regulators said talks are ongoing to resolve the issue of N42 billion debt between the banks and telcos.
The statement signed by CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria)’s Acting Director Corporate Communications Osita Nwanisobi, and NCC (Nigerian Communications Commission)’s Director, Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde reads thus:
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) have had protracted disagreements concerning the appropriate USSD pricing model for financial transactions. This resulted in the accumulation of outstanding fees for USSD services rendered leading to potential service withdrawal by MNOs.
USSD is a critical channel for delivering financial services, particularly for the underserved and for financially excluded. To resolve the lingering dispute and ensure uninterrupted services to customers on the channel, the Honourable Minister for Communication 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 Telecom 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 15, 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 payment 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 resolution, the impending suspension of DMBs from the USSD channels is hereby vacated. Therefore, DMBs shall no longer be disconnected from the USSD channel.
The general public should be reminded that USSD 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.