In its bid to end the row between banks and telecom operators, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian Communications Commission have agreed on a new charge for mobile banking services in the country.
In a joint press release on Tuesday, it was decided that with effect from Wednesday, March 16, phone users using their devices for mobile banking will be charged a flat rate of N6.98 per transaction.
While it is generally feared to erode the gains already recorded in expanding financial inclusion in the country, some telecom stakeholders actually believe that the new rate is cheaper than what many banks were unilaterally charging their customers before this new rate regime and would thus still help penetration of financial inclusion.
Unknown to many customers, before the new CBN/NCC guideline, banks were charging customers N4,25 for every 20 seconds and were keeping all the proceeds of those charges while owing the telecom operators on whose platforms the USSD apps were operating billions of Naira. The new N6.98 is a flat fee for each transaction regardless of how long the customer is on the platform.
The decision comes days after telecoms companies threatened to suspend access to the so-called USSD facility, which allows phone users to check their bank accounts, transfer and receive money, and pay their bills.
The shortcode service has been popular in a country with a relatively low penetration of financial services. Many non-governmental organisations have sought to encourage financial inclusion by encouraging mostly the nation’s poorest population to make use of the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD).
After a festering controversy over the payment for the service, the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) last Friday said it would disconnect the banks from the service by March 15. The group said its members were owed N42 billion by banks.. Today’s meeting however seems to have settled all the issues as banks will now prepare to make the agreed payments available based on agreed payment plans.
READ THE FULL STATEMENT HERE
JOINT STATEMENT BY CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA AND NIGERIAN COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION ON PRICING OF UNSTRUCTURED SUPPLEMENTARY SERVICE DATA (USSD) SERVICES
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 the MNOs.
USSD is 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 Honorable 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), OMBs (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.