By Myke Uzendu and Ralph Christopher
The Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) have imposed a new charge for mobile banking services carried out through the deployment of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) in the country, in a bid to end a dispute between banks and telecoms operators.
From today, March 16, telephone users deploying their devices for mobile banking will be charged a flat rate of N6.98 per transaction, the regulators announced Tuesday.
Financial analysts say the move is likely to hurt gains made in expanding financial inclusion in the country, and fleece the scarce resources of the poor, who are the key users of the USSD service for small amount financial transactions.
The decision was taken days after telecoms companies threatened to suspend access to the USSD facility, which allows phone users check their bank accounts, transfer and receive money, and pay their bills.
The short code 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 USSD.
After years of unresolved controversy over payment for the service, the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) on Friday said it would disconnect the banks from the service by March 15.
Several Nigerians who attempted to use USSD facility in financial transaction said they were unable to do so, believing that ALTCON had made good its threat.
The group claimed that its members were owed N42 billion by banks, resulting from the deployment of USSD in their services.
In a statement by its Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, and Head of Operations, Gbolahan Awonuga, the group said the withdrawal became necessary after its members and banks failed to reach an agreement on a payment structure that will exclude phone users.
“The banks, however, provided no assurances to our members that such service fees charged to customers’ bank accounts for access to bank services through the USSD channel would be discontinued post implementation of end-user billing by our members,” it said.