USSD Debt Hits N120b Amidst Banks Default

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The Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platform debt profile has hit N120 billion in the midst of the protracted crisis affecting the service. Dialogue is however ongoing between the telecommunications operators and the banks at the regulatory level to find an amicable solution.

As of the first quarter of 2023, the debts were put at N100 billion. But the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) said the banks continue to hold back remittance even as the outstanding has increased by N20 billion.

ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo revealed that the debt figure has climbed up to N120 billion. Adebayo, who confirmed discussion at the regulatory level, said: “Discussions are ongoing, we have regulatory intervention by both the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) at a very high level. Some of the banks are paying while others seem waiting until service is withdrawn in an attempt to test our resolve to get them to pay.

“If this CBN/NCC intervention fails, we will withdraw USSD service from debtor banks at some points. The outstanding now is in the region of N120 billion and no sector can survive the magnitude of rising debt.

“The banks have a moral obligation because these are services for which money has been deducted from their customers.” While the crisis is running for over five years now, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, CBN and NCC had noted that from March 16, 2021, USSD services would be charged at a flat fee of N6.98k per transaction.

The agreement further said that the new USSD charges would be collected on behalf of mobile network operators (MNOs) directly from customers and that banks would not impose additional charges on customers for the use of the USSD channel.

Before the N6.98k per transaction regime, a typical USSD session, which lasted for 20 seconds had a price cap set at ₦4.98 for each session. A statement jointly signed by both NCC and CBN, when the crisis was at a tipping point on the N6.98k, read: “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.”