N120bn USSD debt won’t be written off, telcos tell banks

Telecommunication firms have said they will not be forgiving the N120bn Unstructured Supplementary Service Data debt banks owe them.

They stated that banks must pay the debt, insisting banks would be disconnected once every effort at resolution was exhausted.

This was disclosed by the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo.

According to him, banks are yet to positively respond to telcos, threatening the continued usage of USSD for financial services.

This is following a disconnection notice the banks issued to the banks recently following regulatory approval from the Nigerian Communication Commission to disconnect banks from USSD access.

He told The PUNCH, “There has been no (progress) and we are going to go ahead. As I said to you the last time, the parties are now following the terms of the agreement between them.

“Individual operators have different models of agreement with different banks. Parties are now following that. Appropriately, each will enforce the disconnection when the time is appropriate. But I can’t say to you that the problem is solved, and I can’t say to you that the problem will go away. For those who are thinking that the banks will not pay, and the operator will forgive it, that will never happen. The sums involved must be paid a hundred per cent. We are not backing down.”

Adebayo stated that the telecoms industry intends to insist on payment or disconnect services. He noted that banks have a moral obligation to pay since they have been collecting payment from their customers for the service.

“The banks have the moral obligation to pay. You can see what is happening, that people are been held to account. Because these are services that are rendered and paid for,” he said, “They deduct money from users of the channel, whereas the money due to the operator is not remitted.

They are taking money from the bank account of users already. They have the moral burden to pay the debt, and it is not going away.”

He further asserted, “The process of disconnection is ongoing, appropriately we would take that action when we get to the end of the bridge.”

Since 2019, banks and telcos have been at each other’s throats over the payment of USSD services. When the disagreement began, telcos claimed that banks were owing them N32bn, which grew to N120bn as of recently.

USSD is the primary financial infrastructure for many Nigerians, with only about 44 per cent owning smartphones according to Alliance for Affordable Internet. 762.19 million transactions were carried out using USSD in 2020, according to the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc.

The future of USSD remains uncertain, especially after the Chief Executive Officer, Guaranty Trust Holding Company, said, “USSD is a clumsy technology. It’s not state-of-the-art. The best way to have financial inclusion is to crash the cost of data so that data becomes more affordable. Then we can use what is a superior technology.”

(Punch)