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USSD Debt: Stakeholders Set Six-Point Settlement Agenda, New Pricing Regime

Key Federal Government agencies and top players in the nation’s telecommunications sector on Monday ended their meeting with a six-point measure to forestall future indebtedness and disruption of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services channel to bank customers nationwide.

USSD is a critical channel for delivering financial services, particularly for the underserved and/or financially excluded.

The meeting was convened to resolve the faceoff between Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) 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.

The Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, Dr, Isa Pantami, chaired the meeting of key stakeholders, including the representatives of the various MNOS, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), DMBs (represented by the Chairman, Body of Bank CEOs) and the sector regulators Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to discuss an amicable resolution in the interest of the general public.

After the discussions on the key issues, the stakeholders agreed on a resolution framework acceptable to all parties.

Specifically, the parties agreed that 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.

Secondly, to promote transparency in its administration, the stakeholders resolved that new USSD charges would be collected on behalf of MNOs directly from customers bank accounts and that banks shall not impose additional charges on customers for use of the USSD channel.

Thirdly, it was jointly agreed by the parties that a settlement plan for outstanding payments incurred for USSD services, previously rendered by the MNOs, should be worked out by all parties in a bid to ensure that the matter is fully resolved.

A joint statement by the NCC and the CBN on the decisions taken during the meeting further indicated that 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.

This is even as the DMBs and MNOs restated their commitment to engaging further on strategies to lower cost and enhance access to financial services.

Following the above resolutions, the parties agreed that the impending suspension of DMBs from the USSD channel be immediately vacated, thereby forestalling the disconnection of DMBs from the USSD channel.

The stakeholders, therefore, reminded the general public 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 also restated their resolve to continue to engage relevant operators and all stakeholders to promote cheaper, seamless access to mobile and financial services for all Nigerians.

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