Telecommunications giant, MTN, on Thursday said that the new charging model for USSD banking services has not gone into effect.
A statement signed by Uto Ukpanah, the company secretary, said that the telecommunication firm is willing to collaborate with all stakeholders in the interest of their customers.
The statement, sent to the Nigerian Stock Exchange, also said that MTN is determined to make the lives of its customers “a little easier”, hence its focus on “what really matters.”
The statement comes against the background of the furore generated by the firm’s planned move to impose a new charge on customers who use its short codes to access banking services.
MTN Nigeria had in an SMS message to its subscribers on Sunday said the decision was at the request of the banks and would take effect from October 21.
“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 message said.
Many Nigerians expressed outrage on social media over the plan, which is coming amid a raft of new charges the federal government has caused citizens to pay.
In a swift reaction, the Nigerian government also directed the telecom firm, MTN, to suspend its plan.
In a statement, the minister of communication and digital economy, Isa Pantami, said his ministry was unaware of the plan.
On Thursday, Mr Pantami directed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to sanction mobile network operators in the country making illegal deductions from subscribers.
This was stated in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES by the minister’s spokesperson, Uwa Suleiman.
Earlier on Monday, Nigerian banks denied asking MTN to impose a new charge on customers for using the telecom firm’s access codes to conduct financial transactions.
Also, 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 telecoms company, in the same way a customer is billed for calls, SMS and data.”
It also 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.”
MTN backtracks, appeals for caution
Meanwhile, in its statement Thursday, MTN restated its earlier claim that the decision was made after consultations with the banks.
“Following consultations with industry stakeholders, customers feedback and media reports related to the message notifying our customers of upcoming changes in our charging model for access to banking services via the USSD channel, we wish to confirm thatr the new charging model has not gione into effect,” the company said.
MTN said the notification sent to customers came after formal request received from individual banks as well as the Body of Bank CEOs to effect end-user billing – a billing method in which the customer is directly charged USSD access fee irrespective of the charge implemented on their accounts by the banks.
The telecom firm said that it operates a transparent system in its service delivery, hence, the consultation with the banks and their CEOs.
Before now, MTN said, banks had been on a corporate billing plan, serving as a corporate client and paying the bills at a wholesale price.
MTN said it believes that USSD charges should be implemented on customers’ accounts only once, based on the Central Bank of Nigeria guidelines.
The firm said it had resisted implementing end-user billing for long, in a bid to promote the nation’s financial inclusion agenda.
“We relented only after exhausting avenues of engagement with the banks in pursuit of a model that enabled a single charge,” the statement said.
It said separate charges from banks and telcos are unnecessary burden on the customers.
“With this in mind, it is imperative for all parties to approach the table and engage constructively towards a solution, putting the consumer at the fore of all decisions,” MTN said.
The telecom company said it will collaborate with the banks and implement the decision approved by it regulators.