Nigeria’s telecom regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and its counterpart in the banking industry, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has agreed on some frameworks regarding the pricing of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services.
This was arrived at after the Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami on March 15, 2021, chaired a meeting of key stakeholders to discuss an amicable resolution of the protracted disagreements concerning the appropriate USSD pricing model for financial transactions between Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Deposit Money Banks (DMBs). The protracted disagreements resulted in the accumulation of outstanding fees for USSD services rendered leading to the threat of service withdrawal by the MNOs.
Represented at the meeting were the various MNOs, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), DMBs (represented by the Chairman, Body of Bank CEOs) and the sector regulators – Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
In a joint statement issued by NCC and CBN after the meeting, the two regulatory bodies resolved 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 N6.98k 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.
Another resolution is 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.
The statement reads: “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 (APIs) 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,”.
USSD is a critical channel for delivering financial services, particularly for the underserved and/or financially excluded.