Many users of USSD services in Nigeria on Friday started to see a notice to pay N6.98 for each transaction session.
USSD is a critical channel for delivering financial services, especially for those who do not have access to physical banking infrastructure or internet services.
“Welcome to USSD Banking,” one notice said. “Please note, a N6.98 network charge will be applied to your account for banking services on this channel.”
The decision to charge users was reached in March by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The decision was part of an agreement reached with deposit money banks following a disagreement between banks and telecom firms over USSD and other text message transaction requests.
“Effective March 16, 2021, USSD services for financial transactions conducted at DMBs (Deposit Money Banks) and all CBN-licensed institutions will be charged at a flat fee of N6.98 per transaction,” a March statement signed by the CBN and NCC partly read.
The charge is expected to be withdrawn from users’ bank accounts and remitted to mobile network operators, who provide infrastructure for the service to operate.
Many Nigerians took to Twitter early Friday to express their dismay over the charges.
“Things are really getting harder in this country a whole 6.98 approximately 7.00 to use #USSD,” one Twitter user wrote.
“The general public is reminded that the USSD channel is optional, as several alternative channels such as mobile apps, internet banking and ATMs may be used for financial transactions,” the CBN and NCC said in its March joint statement.
“The CBN and NCC shall continue to engage relevant operators and all stakeholders to promote cheaper, seamless access to mobile and financial services for all Nigerians.”
But there are concerns about how the new charge will affect financial inclusion, particularly for people who do not have access to internet services.
“Do they realize that people who mostly use #USSD can’t afford internet enabled devices talk more of data. Now you’re charging 7 Naira,” another Twitter user, @JimolWest, said.