FirstBank’s USSD banking: Meeting immediate needs of Nigerians

May 17, 2021
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OUT of cash, airtime and data. No single (working) ATM or PoS terminal anywhere in sight to enable the use of a debit card to access one’s bank account(s). 

Ever found yourself in an emergency situation where all that was standing between your loved one and almost certain death were life-saving treatment to be withheld, was your ability (or inability) to access funds in your bank account(s) and make a deposit so the treatment can commence? 

Not a situation anyone would pray for themself or even wish on their enemy. The anxiety and panic alone, coupled with the overwhelming thought that one’s village people had finally boxed one in, could kill one way before one’s loved one who requires the emergency treatment. 

Or, you are in a remote location with a very poor network connection that frustrates any and every attempt at internet or mobile banking. 

Meanwhile, you urgently need to transfer funds to one of your own in the city to pay for an important application before it closes. 

What about your regular trips to “the area” for which you switch phones – dropping your expensive smartphone at home and inserting your SIM into a feature phone you acquired for such trips? 

How do you handle any emergency transfer of funds to your family back home that may arise unexpectedly while you are on your way to, or already settled in, “the area”? 

“The area” simply denotes a place you go to or have to go to (like the village, to see your folks; a building or road construction site that you are overseeing in the heart of no-man’s-land) that is relatively unsafe or requires taking a calculated risk. 

The different true-to-life situations above and numerous others like them are scenarios that make Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) banking a compelling proposition. USSD banking can be done using any type of mobile phone – whether smartphone or not-so-smart feature phone; it makes no difference. 

Another thing that makes no difference is the GSM network used, and that is because USSD banking is available across all GSM networks in Nigeria. It requires no internet, making it reliable in the most remote of locations where internet availability is as abundant as unsalted water in the ocean. 

It is fast, offering instant value, and convenient as well as easy to use. With USSD banking, you can effect funds transfer, airtime recharge, data top-up and bills payment. You can also carry out enquiry services – balance enquiry, BVN enquiry, account enquiry, etc – and request a mini statement. 

FirstBank’s USSD banking, also referred to as 894Banking or Quick Banking, which witnessed a 22 per cent growth rate in 2020 and now has well over 12 million users on the channel, has been saving lives since its introduction. It has been facilitating transactions in the hinterland and remote locations where, but for it, beneficiaries would have been telling a different story from the happy ending they experienced. 

Hospital patients have been saved from being discharged prematurely or denied life-saving drugs because someone dialled *894# and had funds transferred to the hospital’s account on the nick of time. Children have been saved from being sent away from school because someone used *894# to settle their outstanding school fees just when it seemed all hope was lost. Even Grandma Enugu, the pet name given to her by her grandchildren in Lagos, would have missed out on a oncein-a-lifetime bargain she stumbled on at Ogbete Main Market, Enugu. She had emptied her purse to secure the deal, but all the cash therein was not enough. Going back home to get extra cash or dashing out to the nearest ATM terminal to withdraw money did not appear as feasible options given the crowd of people also seeking to take advantage of the opportunity. 

It was *894# that came to her rescue and saved the day. It is people like Grandma Enugu that contributed to the over one billion figure that FirstBank recorded in transaction count on the USSD platform in 2020. That amounted to over N3.6 trillion in transaction value on the platform in 2020. This huge sum represents money people transferred to others to save lives, settle hospital bills and school fees, pay for goods and services, repay what they borrowed, made donations during religious services, weddings, child-naming ceremonies, birthdays, etc.; used for airtime recharge or data top-up; deployed to pay bills such as power and water utility bills and cable TV subscription; etc. – all done using FirstBank’s *894# USSD channel, which is “customer-friendly” and offering “instant banking, anytime, anywhere”. 

USSD banking on FirstBank’s *894# platform works only on the phone number registered on the bank’s SMS alert platform. The funds are deducted directly from the active and preferred FirstBank account of the user, with a cumulative maximum daily transfer limit of N100,000 to both FirstBank and other banks. 

For security, a second-factor authentication (2FA), done with the four-digit PIN of the user’s debit card, is required for transfers above N20,000. Airtime recharge and data top-up, which incur no session cost, have a minimum daily limit of N50 and maximum daily limit of N10,000. For those who are not on the USSD platform because of the multiple other bank payment platforms that they are on – mobile banking, internet banking, debit card, credit card, cheque book, etc. – think again. There is something about USSD banking and the distinct advantage it offers in an environment where emergencies occur at an above-average frequency and where other options for accessing your bank funds could suddenly become unavailable (maybe due to the vagaries of weather) or just fail spectacularly – without any announcement or prior warning, hint or signal. 

So, act fast and enrol for USSD banking. To register for USSD banking on FirstBank, dial *894*0# using your mobile number linked to your account (the one on which you receive SMS alerts or transaction notifications). When a menu appears, select “register for 894Banking”. When prompted, select the PAN of your active debit card and input the four-digit card PIN. Then generate a five-digit PIN to use for your transactions on USSD banking. Once you get the message “enrolment successful”, you know you have joined millions of people on an easy and convenient banking platform that has been saving lives since.

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