The Perils When Banks Become Vendors of Airtime and Data Plans

The Perils When Banks Become Vendors of Airtime and Data Plans

A big business war broke out in Nigeria a few days ago: the nation’s largest telecom operator, and legions of its banks, were fighting for percentages. You could be mistaken to think that there was one big infrastructure project going on. But hello, the percentages are on commissions for selling airtime and data plans to enable  people make calls, do Facebook, do emails, and the usual online things. Sure, nothing bad about that – it is free enterprise. 

But look deeper, was it really an important fight for the Nigerian government to mediate? It seems it was, since the central bank governor and the minister of digital economy intervened to help manage the fee paralysis! What a nation!

After 48 hours of disconnecting MTN customers from banking channels including the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data and banking apps, commercial banks on Sunday have reconnected MTN customers to banking channels, The PUNCH can confirm.

Our correspondent gathered that the development followed the intervention of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami; and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele.

But we are back to the status quo – and over time, that would be the normal state. MTN had delivered a great Easter gift to amalgam of fintech startups when it brought Carbon, Flutterwave, OPay, etc into the fold. But that has been largely frozen as we are back to the beginning: banks have restored MTN’s channels for purchase of airtime and data plans.

Service resumed Sunday afternoon after MTN agreed to revert to “status quo” at the request of the Minister of Communications, the Nigerian Communications Commission and the Central Bank of Nigeria while a permanent solution is being worked out, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

“The CBN Governor’s intervention is in line with our core values. We acceded to his request and that of our Minister. We will continue to live our values that ‘everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life’,” Carl Toriola, MTN Nigeria chief executive, said Sunday.

It is a slam dunk because any day MTN channels remain disconnected, the digits will look bad in their bank accounts! Pure and simple, you will call it an own-goal. MTN failed to understand that Nigeria is now entwined in our banking system, as many keep money in digits, nothing like cash anymore!

In 2010, MTN had a big chance to cause this change. But today, Nigerians keep their money in the banks. So, if the banks have the money, you need to find ways to work with them if you want people to pay you.

As we digitize our payment system with money moving digital, the godzillas of the future would be payment systems and banks, because if you do not play along, even your customers will not notice you! MTN’s challenge is not the percentage of the commission but the fact that banks are selling airtime, and data plans which typically should be left for other minor sectors of the economy! I mean what do you expect those small SMEs to do if banks sell software, school portals, airtime, training bundles, etc?

They should support those elements but they are not expected to be compensated. What MTN is paying them should be paid to smaller companies in the economy. I do not expect my bank (Bank of America) to get commissions anytime I pay AT&T for my data. AT&T works with integrators and small vendors, expanding opportunities in the economy.

I tell you one thing: a community where one man extracts all the values will struggle one day because a tree does not make a forest. Banks should focus on banking and leave these other works for other players in Nigeria’s economy! That is what I expect the minister and the apex bank governor to intervene on, and not help banks and MTN to fix commissions on airtime and data payments.

Bank Disconnection – The MTN Easter Present To Nigerian Fintech Companies! [Updated]


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4 thoughts on “The Perils When Banks Become Vendors of Airtime and Data Plans

  1. We have a banker as the CBN honcho, that’s the first anomaly. The way Nigeria is, a banker should never head CBN, because they are already compromised; they always work to protect their constituency. It’s a cult thing, nothing is new.

    We should have used this small altercation to birth a new sector or revive old one, unfortunately MTN chickened out, citing guys we pay a lot of money to get the economy working, but they only know how to protect their rich friends.

    We make all the noise about SMEs being the engine of any economy, yet nobody cares to ask where the markets for SMEs are located. We allow corporations to get involved in the very things that could keep the small guys happy and going; our insensitivity is well known.

    We should be tearing a lot of things down, banks make money in irresponsible ways, and we take it to be normal. Selling items and looking to build websites for people can’t be called banking services, a lot of crazy things happen here, and we are still wondering why there’s too much anger and criminality in the land. We deny a lot of small guys economic opportunities, and we are not even ashamed. The people we ought to be supporting, we extort them, and then announce fat numbers.

    We keep disappointing.

  2. It is about time someone talked about it, I see no reason a bank should take part in anything’s eg website building, recharge card and so many other things. I am a Shame to see our Minister and Apex bank boss in this mess, because they have no business there.
    NCC as regulator shouldn’t allowed it to happen.

  3. Banks goes to declare billions of profits every year in Nigeria where poverty is at the highest extreme more than anywhere else in the world. This certainly calls for a concern. Interest rate is not friendly to any sector. It can not support housing needs, neither industrial development or employment creation. The reason why many companies are leaving Nigeria in droves. So we see why the banks are now looking for money where they should not because the real sectors which they failed to developed due to their greed and excesses is failing everybody. What a shameful thing to see a country that cannot fix things right like ours? All because the elite class wants to continue to swim in their billions in a continuously failing system called Nigeria.


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