Breaking! Telcos set to disconnect banks over N42bn USSD debt

By Victor Akindele

From Monday, March 15, 2021, bank customers in Nigeria may be unable to use the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) for financial transactions. This came as the telecommunications operators have concluded plans to withdraw the service from banks due to non-payment of charges running into over N42 billion.

Speaking through their umbrella body, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the telcos said the withdrawal of the service became inevitable as the banks have refused to pay their debts even after the government’s intervention.

“Our members are initiating a phased process of withdrawal of USSD services, starting with the most significant debtors within the Financial Service Providers (FSPs) effective Monday, March 15, 2021. While the withdrawal of USSD service is in place, we encourage our subscribers to kindly explore alternative channels with their banks,” ALTON said in a statement released today and signed by its Chairman, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo.

“We deeply regret that we have reached a point where the withdrawal of these services has become unavoidable, however, we remain committed to working closely with the relevant Ministries and regulators to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.

“To minimise the disruption to customers, and with the concurrence of the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), on the huge debt to the Network operators; Mobile Network Operators will disconnect debtor Financial Service Providers (FSPs) from USSD services until the huge debt is paid,” Adebayo said.

According to Adebayo, it has been more than eight months since the NCC issued an updated pricing methodology for USSD services for financial transactions in Nigeria. The methodology, he said, explicitly restricts Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s) from charging the end-user for the services and mandates the banking sector to enter into negotiations to settle outstanding obligations and agree on individual pricing mechanisms to be applied going forwards.

“During this time, Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s) have continued to provide access to USSD infrastructure and our members have continued to pay all bank charges and fees to access the Banking industries assets and customers, despite the fact that obligations due from banks to telecoms companies for USSD services has reached over N42 billion.

“ALTON members have continued to provide these services because our primary concern is that the millions of Nigerian customers who access financial services through our USSD infrastructure every day should be able to continue conducting their transactions.

“This was given greater importance when customers became further reliant on these services due to COVID movement restrictions. Unfortunately, as it has been impossible to agree on a structure for these payments with the banks that do not involve the end-user being asked to pay, the government has been forced to intervene to ensure that a sustainable cost-sharing solution is agreed, that does not disadvantage the consumer in the long-term,” Adebayo stated.

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