Telecoms companies differ with banks on new USSD charges

• Communications minister halts move

Following short messages received from network providers, especially MTN Nigeria, that the use of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) channels to access banking services would attract new charges from October 21, some Deposits Money Banks have insisted that their services and charges remain the same.

But in a swift reaction, the Federal Ministry of Communications, through a statement signed by the spokesperson to the Minister of Communications, Mrs Uwa Suleiman on Sunday said the Minister of Communications, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami is unaware of this development.

It noted that the minister has hereby directed the sector regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to ensure that the operator “suspends such plans until the Honourable Minister is fully and properly briefed.”

Some telecommunications network service providers over the weekend sent notices to their customers saying that from October 21, they will charge N4 per 20 seconds for USSD access to banking services.

Banking sources disclosed that before now, such services as Airtime for self using USSD codes, Airtime for others, Account Opening, Data Purchase, Balance Enquiry and Fund Transfer to the same bank were all free.

However, Fund Transfer to Other Banks attracts N84, (N80+N4.00 VAT) in some banks, and N52.50 (₦50 + ₦2.50 VAT) charges in others.

Once a customer dials the code, a session starts and lasts for 2 minutes for such transaction to be completed. However, the session times out after 20 seconds of inactivity.

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At the point of introduction, telcos charged customers per USSD session. These charges differ across networks with the highest being N20 per session.

However, this new charge would mean that customers will be charged N12 for every minute spent on the USSD channel.

The development elicited reactions from customers and they have taken to social media to express their views.

Some banks have equally responded, saying their charges remain unchanged.

“Our fees and charges on the USSD service remain unchanged and all our services are available,” Access Bank’s Twitter account replied a customer.

Also, First Bank through its Twitter account replied a customer as follows: “Hello, kindly be advised the information on charges that apply when dialling *894* USSD codes is not from FirstBank. You will be informed if there are any changes with any of our services. Thank you for banking with us.”

Consequently, in what seems like a conflicting response to a customer’s enquiry, MTN in its twitter handle @MTN180 stated, “Y`ello, thank you for contacting us. The notification has been sent to all customers stating that any USSD access made from your bank will be billed directly from your airtime. It applies to all banks and to all networks. The charge is N4 per session.”

The other leg read, “Please be informed that the message is a directive from your bank, which states that, going forward, you will be charged directly from your line (N4/20secs) for using the bank’s USSD code. Kindly contact your bank for more details.”

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