Thursday’s failure of the banks’ Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) systems for clients added to the concerns of the already troubled Nigerian banking public.
A USSD short code is required to access financial services including transfers, bill payments, and airtime recharges, among others, using USSD banking, an SMS-based mobile banking service.
Due to their inability to obtain cash over the counter in the banking halls, along with the fact that the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are not dispensing cash, and the fact that the Point of Sales (PoS) terminals are currently a no-go area due to the exorbitant service charge by the merchants, many bank customers switched to the USSD platforms to conduct financial transactions.
As of yesterday, PoS retailers could charge N700 for each N5000 in cash withdrawn. It is painfully required of you to divide N20,000 into four separate payments of N5,000 each, and the consumer is still charged N700 for each.
This means that the user must pay N2, 800 for each N20,000 in withdrawals.
It was hoped that USSD platforms would ease the strain, but as transactions fell off, it turned out to be a nightmare for most customers.
According to The Guardian’s investigations, some transactions that first appeared to have completed on these platforms—where delivery could take up to 30 minutes—were later found to have fallen through.
“Painfully, the funds were not reversed,” claimed Gbenga Adekoya, who used the *737# platform.
Adekoya conitnued: “After spending the whole of yesterday (Wednesday) at the banks with no success and the ATMs also didn’t dispense cash, I decided to explore the USSD platform to send money, about N15, 000 to my mum in the village, the money left my account, didn’t get to destination and reversal was not made by the bank.”
One Emmanuel Nwankpa, who wanted to use the *901# code at a fueling station, said, “on getting to the filling station with no cash, I decided to make a transfer of N5000. When I made the transfer, it showed an error. The fuel attendant, after about 20 minutes, said she didn’t see the alert. I left, only for me to get to the house to discover that my account was debited with N5000. Until now, my money has not been reversed.”
Other USSD codes implicated in this disaster include *966#, *894#, *919#, and *711#.
Due to the demand from all directions, banks’ apps appeared to have failed or were operating at their lowest levels, adding to the consumers’ suffering.
The Guardian has learned that one of the new generation’s main banks had to stop its app approximately two days ago to prevent a complete breakdown of the applications and prevent potential hacking. Customers of the bank experienced extra difficulty as a result.
One of the customers said: “When I couldn’t get cash for about two days and the ATM has been besieged by crowds, I moved to the banking apps, but several attempts made, never went through, it was my wife, who happens to be a banker that alerted me of possible shut down of the particular app. This is no more funny because we have money and to access it has become a major headache.”
Kehinde Aluko, a telecoms specialist, advised banks to modernize all of their internet platforms, USSD, and applications. He urged banks to be more cautious, especially now to prevent hackers from hacking their applications.
Aluko said going by what is currently happening in the banking sector, “I won’t be surprised to hear that hackers have hacked into banks. People cannot have access to their funds, they are stranded, and bills are piling up, some dangerous things are in the offing.
“Going by the current level of traffic moving towards USSD, bank applications, it will be very dangerous if the sector authorities just fold their arms to watch as things get to chaos level.
“Unfortunately, many bank apps in Nigeria do not have the capacity for the number of transactions we are witnessing at the same time right now. Banks must upgrade and quickly be on the alert to forestall possible cyber-attack. They need a stronger firewall now than ever.”