Nigerians have condemned the imposition of ₦6.98 charge on consumers of banking services for every banking transaction carried out on all USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) banking platforms. The banks have disclosed that the charges would be withdrawn from customers’ bank accounts and remitted to the mobile network service providers that provide the USSD platforms.
The decision to impose USSD charges on consumers was reached in March by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) after mediating in a dispute between deposit money banks and the telecommunication firms over accumulated debts on the use of USSD channel for financial transactions.
A joint statement by CBN and NCC reads: “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 (Deposit Money Banks) and all CBN licensed institutions will be charged at a flat fee of ₦6.98 per transaction. To promote transparency in its administration, the new USSD charges will be collected on behalf of MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) directly from customers’ bank accounts. Banks shall not impose additional charges on customers for use of the USSD channel.”
The USSD is a communications technology commonly used to deliver financial services to bank customers, particularly those who do not have access to physical banking infrastructure or internet connection. When a customer dials on their mobile phone, a number that starts with * and ends with #, they are using USSD.
It would be recalled that the telcos had threatened to disconnect the banks from the USSD channel on June 10, 2021, prompting the intervention of the regulatory authorities. The DMBs have notified their customers of this new development, urging them to make use of alternative channels available to them at no charge, such as Mobile Apps, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Internet Banking, etc.
Many bank customers who spoke with Consumer Life expressed displeasure at the imposition of the USSD fee. According to them, it will counter the progress made with the cashless policy of government. “This USSD charges will discourage many people from using the service and this will have negative impact on the cashless policy of government. Many of us will be forced to rely on cash transaction despite the disadvantages,” says Moses Adebisi, a businessman and frequent user of mobile banking services via USSD.
Francisca Nzeh, a teacher is of the view that the new charge is punitive. “The timing is very wrong. People are still trying to cope with the already high cost of living and they are making life more difficult for us,” she says.
However, the regulatory authorities have assured bank customers that the ₦6.98 flat rate would ensure a much cheaper average cost for them as against the previous per session billing structure, adding that it would further enhance financial inclusion.