FirstBank’s USSD: Integrating customers into mainstream banking



AMAKA IFEAKANDU looks at the  milestones recorded by First Bank of Nigeria Limited  through the USSD banking payment channel


The advent of technology in the nation’s financial industry has  changed the mode of banking transactions in the country.

The transformation in the bank operations creates opportunity for customers to have access to their various  bank accounts at any  time of the day without physically going to the banking hall.

First Bank of Nigeria Limited, a leading financial inclusion service provider, has sustained its leadership position in the area of  technology development  in terms of providing services that meet the needs of its customers, irrespective of where they are located.

The Bank’s USSD banking service, launched in January 2015, was designed specifically to bring banking services closer to customers. The platform is easy to use, convenient, fast and user-friendly mobile banking channel through which various banking activities are carried out on a mobile phone–across the four major GSM network operators in the country.

What is USSD Banking? 

USSD is a GSM Mobile Technology trend that is redefining customers make payments and other value added services as an emerging economy. 

It enables users to conduct specific banking transactions with any kind of mobile device, as long as it can access a GSM network .FirstBank’s*894# Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) is a quick, convenient, secure and easy way for customers to perform their  banking transactions ,transfer money, check balance, buy airtime, pay bills and lots more anytime and anywhere, using any type of phone without need for internet connectivity or data.

Benefits

FirstBank’s USSD banking platform, which can be operated  by dialling *894# on a mobile phone is aimed at executing basic transactions. In developing the platform, the bank’s target is to provide digital products that would be appropriate for different markets or segments of users. Its greatest advantage over other banking channels is its ability to reach users of financial services who reside at the base of the banking access pyramid because they are often low-income earners who are unable to access technology.

USSD is able to easily take financial services to low income earners because its usage flexibility enables it to be functional on both the simplest/cheapest mobile devices, and the higher technology smart phones and tablets. It also resolves the problem of accessibility, where these users cannot visit a bank because they live far off the cities where the banks are located.  But due to the advantage  of convenience  and capability, USSD is being  acclaimed  as the most effective communication technology available to provide financial services to low-income individuals. 

Today, FirstBank Customers are able to enjoy a wide range of banking services using the Bank’s *894# USSD banking. These services include; Data and Airtime top-up for self and third-party individuals, Quick Balance Enquiry, Fund Transfers, BVN Enquiry, BVN Linkage, Mini-statement and  Account Number Enquiry among others

Other Benefits 

For non-customers, the feature allows you to open a bank account in a couple of minutes without having to visit the banking hall. One can open a

bank account in a couple of minutes without having to visit the banking hall. One can open a bank account, receives his/her account number immediately and starts transactions on it right away. The common saying of “instant banking, anytime, anywhere” can’t get more real than this

Security

 FirstBank USSD has  an added security step, requesting a second-factor authentication (2FA) for transfers above N20,000 as a way to secure customers from being ripped off. There is a cumulative maximum daily transfer limit of N100,000 to both FirstBank and other banks account.”

Impact

With the launching of USSD Banking,  First Bank has recorded a landmark  achievements in respect of an increase in the number of users, volume and value of transactions on its platform.

Available data from the bank showed that in 2021, the volume of transactions recorded on the First Bank USSD Banking platform went to 1,191,918,497 while value stood at N4,444,558,312,644.51. 

the bank also said the  volume and value transactions between January till date was 176,471,398 and N701,531,193,728.11 respectively. 

Other data  showed that the average Value of transactions in the bank’s mobile banking service in monetary terms is N370,543 and the average Volume of transactions is 99,746

The gender-spread of the application of the users, according to the bank, was 60 per cent for male and 40 per cent for female while age range of customers engaged in the transaction stood between 15 years and 55 years. The number of customers using the platform as at the end of December 2021 went to 13,283,131 while  total number of customers admitted in the platform from January till date stand at 13,406,398.

FirstBank USSD Banking platform maintains number one  position in the industry, as the bank was recognised as Alternative Service Channels Bank of the Year.

The bank has also added limit enhancement, security features, implementation  of pay attitude on USSD Banking platform to enhance customer satisfaction.

The use of FirstBank USSD Banking platform does not require internet connectivity and it is convenient and secure.

How to  operate FirstBank *894# USSD code 

The service of USSD code requires the customer to have a FirstBank account with a linked debit card, and the phone number with which you receive SMS alerts. The customer will as well  need to dial 8940# to get started. Some of the transactions one can execute on the platform include transferring money to any bank in Nigeria; airtime recharge for self and for others; Check your account balance and Get a mini-statement.

According to the bank, the bouquet of offerings on the platform is huge. So beyond the aforementioned services currently being offered, the customer can do  Bill Payment, Retail/Merchant payment, Account opening, BVN linking/BVN enquiry and a host of other services. These services put together will cater for  all customers. 

The USSD service is expected to become a product that will also complement the mobile app platform when customers don’t have access to the internet. The product will also see more exposure, especially towards customers in the areas where internet penetration is low, and to customers who don’t use smartphones or purchase internet access at all.

FirstBank’s view on USSD usage 

Commenting

on the platform, FirstBank’s Group Executive, e-Business & Retail Products:Chuma Ezirim, said:  “At FirstBank, we are excited about the impact our innovative solutions are making in the Nigerian payment landscape. Our *894# USSD banking has been a viable platform through which we take our banking services to the doorstep of our customers, right on the palm of their hands, without the limitation of an internet connection. We remain committed to creating various avenues to enable Nigerians carry-out various financial activities conveniently, safely and securely anytime, anywhere in Nigeria.”

On how the USSD services  improve the lives of Nigerians, the bank said: “The data being generated through this service is sufficient to help the bank understand its current and prospective customers and develop products that suit them.

“Traders and small businesses can also get a Merchant ID which customers can use to make payments for products and services.  The bank said this is better than having to send one’s account details to countless customers, even without knowing whether or not they are ready to make their purchase.”

On the whole, the impressive growth in FirstBank USSD Banking both in volume, value and number of users, reflects the trust the general public and customers have both in First Bank itself and in its digital banking platform, based on a solid image built over a century.

Without doubt, transactions through First Bank’s USSD code *894# brings together financial inclusion of the underbanked and low income earners of society and integrates them into mainstream banking.  With the security embedded in the FirstBank USSD Banking platform,  customers should be able to transact with ease using the 894 Quick codes on a mobile phone – across the four major GSM network operators in the country