September 13, 2023

Lingering 120bn USSD debt: Banks, Telcos currently on roundtable

Lingering 120bn USSD debt: Banks, Telcos currently on roundtable

•Banks clearly breached agreement – NCC

•New CBN Gov has great wisdom –Danbatta

•There’s hope of peaceful resolution – Telcos

By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor

THERE is hope that the lingering debt dispute between telecommunications companies in Nigeria and banks on Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, USSD will soon be resolved amicably.

Reliable sources from the telcos, told Hi-Tech that both parties are locked in a roundtable meeting, working on how to resolve the issue.

Although the source did not give much details on the possibility of the banks clearing the huge debt said to have climbed above N120 billion naira, as a way of permanently resting the dispute, he however said that both parties are committed to ending the brouhaha, praying that the interests he is seeing among the warring parties now, are genuine to bring respite at the end of the day.

He said: “Both the telcos and the banks are now on a roundtable. The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN provided for us a new guideline to settle the dispute and we are working along those guidelines, towards resolution.”

Pressed further, the source said: “ This time around there is a new vigour and we can see appreciable interests from the banks towards making settlement a reality. We hope the interests are genuine enough to produce the expected result at the end of the day.”

Recall that last week at an official function in Lagos, the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta expressed delight at the wisdom of the new Acting CBN governor to revisit the the debt issue and provided hope of a possible resolution.

Danbatta said that the banks clearly breached agreement they reached with the telcos and attempted to shift the goal post by trying to push payment responsibility to end-users on a service that, ab initio, had corporate billing stature.

He said: On the USSD debt dispute between banks and telcos, we believe the resolution will come faster than imagined. If we follow the issue from the beginning, the banks clearly breached agreement. At the inception, we came out with a direction on what determines the cost of service in relation to the circumstances of our country. This is because, the USSD is driving the country’s digital financial inclusion strategy which is the policy agenda of the Federal Government.

“The determination was agreed with the banks, but over time they received this service, rendered it to their customers, get paid but refused to pay the telcos. Despite several interventions by the former Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, the banks did not pay the accumulated debt, instead they tried to push an end-user billing narrative to a service we agreed was and is still a corporate billing one.

“However, in the wisdom of the new acting CBN governor, he has revisited the case. First of all he has agreed the debt exists and that it should be cleared and service continues to run on the basis of payment as the service is being provided, under corporate billing method and not end-user method”.

The USSD debt issue has lingered for years and it appeared there was no end in sight. A few months ago, the telcos threatened to withdraw their services on the platform, which meant that bank customers would not have been able to access online banking transactions that depend on the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, USSD, platform to function.

It was gathered that the NCC, telcos, the go-ahead following growing debt, which accumulated to over N120 billion.

The breakdown happened after banks allegedly shunned a meeting called by the former Digital Economy Minister between the NCC, telcos and the banks to find a middle ground to the issue. Several interventions have been made between the NCC, CBN, and relevant ministries, yet the debt profile allegedly keeps rising instead of depleting.

While telcos consistently say banks are nonchalant over their payment obligations to them, the banks in turn appear not to have any defence to why the debts keep accumulating.

As at the last two interventions by the NCC, CBN and Minister of Communications between 2020 and  2022 the debt profiles were between N42 billion and N80 billion.

But today a reliable source from the operators said it has climbed well above N120 billion, but there is hope it will be cleared soon.