Nigeria: Banks Disown MTN, Say They Made No Demand for USSD Charge

(file photo)
22 October 2019

Nigerian banks have denied asking MTN to impose a new charge on customers for using the telecom firm's access codes to conduct financial transactions.

MTN on Sunday announced a N4 charge for every 20 seconds of using USSD bank codes, claiming it took the decision as requested by the banks.

"Yello, as requested by your bank, from Oct. 21, we will start charging you directly for USSD access to banking services. Please contact your bank for more information," the company said in a text message.

The government ordered the suspension of the plan after many Nigerians expressed outrage at a time citizens have been caused to pay more in tax and other charges. Communications minister, Isa Pantami, said he was not briefed before the announcement by MTN.

The Body of Bank CEOs said in a statement on Monday that MTN's claim the banks called for the charges was untrue.

The group said, "the banks did not ask MTN to start charging customers as contained in the text message. The decision on whether, and what amount, to charge a customer for assessing USSD is entirely that of the telco company, in the same way a customer is billed for calls, SMS and data."

It said, "MTN is the only company that is yet to implement end-user billing which is the standard practice for customer-initiated transactions. This is despite the fact that the banks, working with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), have engaged MTN over a period of more than one year to try and bring down the cost of USSD to aid financial inclusion."

Government Unaware

The government's earlier statement by the Ministry of Communications said on Sunday, "The office of the Honourable Minister of Communications Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami FNCS, FBCS, FIIM is unaware of this development and has hereby directed the sector regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ensures the operator suspends such plans until the Honourable Minister is fully and properly briefed."

Separately, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also opposed plans by MTN to apply the USSD charge.

The governor of CBN, Godwin Emefiele, gave the bank's position at a news briefing by the Nigerian delegation to the just-concluded World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings, in Washington on Sunday, according to the News Agency of Nigeria.

Responding to a question seeking his reaction to the announcement, the CBN governor said the bank would not allow that to happen.

"About five, four months ago, I held a meeting with some telecom companies as well as the leading banks in Nigeria at Central Bank, Lagos," he was quoted as saying.

"At that time, we came to a conclusion that the use of USSD is a sunk cost. What we mean by a sunk cost is that it is not an additional cost on the infrastructure of the telecom company.

"But the telecom companies disagreed with us, they said it is an additional investment on infrastructure and for that reason they needed to impose it.

"I have told the banks that we will not allow this to happen. The banks are the people who give this business to the telecom companies and I leave the banks and the telecom companies to engage.

"I have told the banks that they have to move their business, move their traffic to a telecom company that is ready to provide it at the lowest possible, if not zero cost.

"And that is where we stand, and we must achieve it," he said.

The banks' executives, in the latest statement, said charges for financial transactions remain unchanged.

"That the banks are determined to pursue the National Financial Inclusion Strategy of the government and will continue to advocate that telcos identify wholeheartedly with this laudable initiative and implement transparent and low pricing model in the use of USSD access codes," the statement said.

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