From March 16, 2021, Nigerian mobile banking users will now have to pay a ₦6.98 flat fee every time they use the USSD banking service.
The Nigerian government made this resolution after a stakeholder meeting between the Minister of Communications and the Digital Economy, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), and financial services providers.
According to the resolution, Nigerian telcos will charge all deposit money banks and other CBN licenced financial services providers the ₦6.98 flat fee which the banks will collect directly from customer’s bank accounts.
This charge will be in place regardless of the number of sessions per transaction. The government also resolved that the banks should not impose any additional charges on customers for the use of the USSD channel.
The new resolution will end the previous practice of charging on a per session basis for USSD transactions.
For instance, if you wanted to transfer money from your account, you would normally be charged for every session it takes until you complete the transaction. A session could be rated as up to 20 seconds spent on the platform, and you could normally be charged ₦4 for those seconds.
The stakeholders are also working on a settlement plan on the outstanding ₦42 billion debt that the banks owe the telcos. The banks and the telcos are also required to agree on a new USSD pricing framework.
Recall that on March 12, the Association of Licenced Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) an umbrella body for the likes of MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9Mobile, stated that it would withdraw the USSD service from Nigerian banks until the ₦42 billion debt they owe is settled.
A day later, the ministry intervened and ordered a temporary suspension of the move pending a stakeholder meeting on March 15, 2021.
The disagreement on who should pay for the USSD service started as far back as October 2019, when telcos argued that Nigerian banks should pay for the service while the banks felt otherwise. Or not, but it was quite a confusing saga.
In August 2020, the NCC reported that the banks owed telcos ₦17 billion, a figure later pegged at ₦42 billion barely six months later.
Nigerians in the financial sector can only hope for a speedy resolution to the outstanding debt for the continued use of the USSD service, which we’ve identified as a key part of Nigeria’s banking sector.
Also, the Nigerian government also reminds customers that they could use other channels such as Internet Banking, Mobile banking apps, Point of Sale, ATMs, and others.
However, while this is much cheaper than the previous per session billing in use, the accumulated cost for users who frequently perform USSD transactions might get steep.
This is particularly noteworthy considering the fact that the USSD service would most likely be used by people without access to the Internet at a particular point in time.
Also, the statement does not clarify if there will still be charges when a USSD transaction is unsuccessful.