TRAI reduces ceiling tariff for mobile banking services

NEW DELHI: It couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment, especially when the country is reeling under a severe cash crunch in the aftermath of demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in an order yesterday reduced the ceiling tariff for the use of unstructured supplementary service data (USSD)-based mobile banking services from Rs 1.50 to Rs.0.50.

TRAI also amended the Mobile Banking (Quality of Service) Regulations to increase the number of stages from 5 to 8 per USSD session.

These amendments will facilitate banks, their agents or any entity authorized by the Reserve Bank of India for better delivery of banking and payment services to the consumers through mobile phones over USSD.

Though these regulatory decisions are an outcome of a detailed consultation process initiated in August 2016, the timing cannot be missed as PM Modi-led government’s move on arresting black money and bring about more transparency through digitalization, including digital banking, has led to partial chaos in society and economy in the short to medium terms.

“The availability of and easy access to banking services for all our citizens is a major objective of public policy. However, the harsh reality is that a large section of our population is still unbanked/under-banked. With a significant penetration of mobile telephony in rural India, the mobile phone can be leveraged to achieve the goal of financial inclusion. Accordingly, in November, 2013, with a view to facilitate mobile banking for financial inclusion, TRAI had established a framework to facilitate the agents of the banks to interface with the access service providers for use of SMS, USSD and IVR channels to provide mobile banking services and prescribed ceiling tariff of Rs. 1.50 per USSD session for USSD-based mobile banking service. However, all these initiatives did not lead to the desired result and both the number of transactions and success rate are below expectation,” TRAI said in a statement while mandating the tariff reductions.

The latest diktat on USSD tariffs, which come into force with immediate effect, would, according to TRAI, hopefully result in greater financial inclusion in the country and contribute to the fulfillment of an important aspect of Digital India by encouraging a ‘less cash’ society.

Welcoming the government’s initiatives to accelerate India’s progress into a `less cash’ economy, Vodafone India MD & CEO Sunil Sood said, “Vodafone India is committed to help actualise the government’s several initiatives designed to make India a digital economy. To ease the burden of masses, we are waiving off all USSD charges presently levied for mobile banking till 31 December 2016. As several million customers use feature phones, we are hopeful that this free access to mobile banking will encourage them to adopt it as their preferred and convenient mode for banking.”

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