On 9th July 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) released a single-document circular, setting out the framework and guidelines for the operations of Mobile Money Services in Nigeria (the Guidelines and Framework). The Guidelines and Framework sets out the rules which governs the business of mobile money operation in Nigeria and stipulates the minimum requirements and standards for the operation of mobile money system by participants. The purpose of this article is to consider the main provisions of those Guidelines and Framework.
What are Mobile Money Services (MMS)?
Mobile Money Services (MMS) are Services through which mobile phones and other mobile devices are used to access financial services such as money transfers, purchase airtime, make payments online, etc.
Models for the Implementation of MMS in Nigeria
- The Bank led model – consisting of a bank or a consortium of banks leveraging on the mobile payment system to deliver banking services.
- The Non-bank led model – consisting of corporate organisations duly licensed by the CBN to provide mobile money services.
Those prohibited from providing Mobile Money Services in Nigeria.
The following are prohibited by the Guidelines from providing mobile money services in Nigeria. They include: Deposit Money Banks, National Primary Mortgage Banks, National Microfinance Banks, and Telecommunication Companies and/or their subsidiaries.
Participants in the Mobile Money System
The following are participants in the Mobile Money System. They include: They are the Regulators, the Mobile Money Operators, Infrastructure Providers, Mobile Network Operators, other Service Providers, Consumers and Mobile Money Agents.
The main regulatory bodies for Mobile Money Services and Systems in Nigeria?
The CBN and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) are the main regulatory bodies for mobile money services in Nigeria. The CBN grants license to Mobile Money Operators (MMOs) and generally regulates financial services rendered. The NCC grants approvals and issues unique short codes to the MMOs.
Mobile Money Operators
Mobile Money Operators are CBN licensed entities such as banks, consortium of banks, or corporate entities that provide the infrastructure for the mobile payment systems for the use of participants that are signed-on to their scheme.
Rules guiding Mobile Money Operators
The Guidelines stipulates the rules which MMOs are to abide by while transacting their business. They include rules on licensing, permissible and non-permissible activities, transactions, activation, operation of mobile payment transfer, their settlement accounts, operation of saving wallet, etc. Some of these rules are:
- MMOs are to be issued a unique scheme code by the Nigerian Inter-Bank Supplementary System (NIBSS) as a unique short code by the NCC;
- They are to ensure that their telecommunication equipment are type-approved by the NCC;
- They are to insure the total outstanding (unspent) balance which represents Mobile Money Subscribers’ unspent funds up to the applicable coverage level by the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC).
- They are to engage in only permissible activities such as wallet creation and management, e-money issuance, non-bank acquiring, card acquiring, pool account management, agent recruitment, etc.
- They are to ensure that registered users activate the service before the commencing transactions with a security code.
- Transactions initiated and concluded within their mobile payment system is required to contain detailed information and have a unique transaction reference issued by the system.
- They are to appoint and notify CBN of their settlement banks.
- They are to settle all obligations arising from mobile payment transactions into settlement accounts held with Deposit Money Banks and they are to maintain separate accounts for their other business activities.
- The settlement account will be a non-interest bearing account, will have no right of set-off and no form of bank charges.
- They are to ensure compliance with rules for the operation of Bank, Card and Store Value Account Based mobile payment transaction.
- They are to put in place detailed processes that cover the entire solution delivery, from user registration and management, agent recruitment and management, Consumer protection, dispute resolution procedures, Risk management processes, to transaction settlement.
- If an MMO intends to provide a savings wallet service, it is to notify the CBN and obtain its approval
- Scheme operators (MMOs that are Banks) are required to maintain a minimum shareholder funds of N2,000,000,000.00 (Two Billion Naira Only) unimpaired by losses at all times or such other amount as may be prescribed by the CBN from time to time
- A risk management officer tasked with providing internal risk management oversight is to be assigned by the MMO
- They are to have, well documented and tested business continuity plans (BPC) approved by the board, that address all aspects of the mobile money business, to take care of business disruptions and ensure system availability and recoverability.
- They are to ensure that the Mobile Money infrastructure BCP is tested through a fail-over process, at least twice a year and that the fail-over is tested, at least quarterly, and enterprise wide BCP is tested on yearly basis
- They are to ensure that a channel of communication is in place 24/7 to entertain enquiries and complaints in a language understood by customers.
- Resolve customer complaints within a reasonable time and not later than 48 hours from the date of reporting or lodging the complaint with the MMO.
Non-permissible activities for MMOs
Mobile Money Operators are not permitted to carry out the following activities:
- Grant any form of loans, advances and guarantees (directly or indirectly)
- Accept foreign currency deposits;
- Dealing in the foreign exchange market except when carrying out payments and remittances (including inbound cross-border personal remittances) services through various channels within Nigeria and, the sale of foreign currencies realized from inbound cross-border personal remittances to authorized foreign exchange dealers
- Insurance underwriting;
- Accept any closed scheme electronic value (e.g. airtime) as a form of deposit or payment;
- Establish any subsidiary;
- Undertake any other transaction which is not prescribed by these Guidelines
The Guidelines provides that MMOs are to take the lead in resolving any dispute between it and its consumer. Any dispute that arises within institutions in the Mobile Money Scheme are to be resolved internally within 14 days and where it fails, it is to be resolved in accordance with the provisions of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 2004.
All licensed Mobile Money Operators have the following reporting obligations:
MMOs are required to reconcile daily, the balances in their pool accounts and make weekly returns to the Director, Payments System Management Department of the CBN.
- Not later than the 14th of every month, MMOs are to submit data and information including the Nature, value and volume of transactions, Nature and number of customer complaints and remedial measures taken, and incidents of fraud to the CBN.
- Non-bank MMOs are to submit monthly assessment report on the performance in prescribed format, and the submission of same to the Director, Payments System Management Department of the CBN.
- MMOs are to make available to the CBN their audited annual returns within the first three months after the year end or 31st of March.
- A copy of the External Auditor’s Report of the MMOs reviewing the Business Continuity Plan is to be forwarded to the CBN latest March 31st of the following year.
- MMOs are to keep record of transactions emanating from the organization’s Mobile Money System for at least, seven (7) years.
- MMOs are to maintain audit trails and settlement logs for at least, seven (7) years.
- MMOs are to maintain a log online containing the electronic summary of transaction and the electronic receipt for at least, three (3) months and it is to be archived subsequently for at least, seven (7) years.
- Scheme operators are to ensure that all settlement information details are preserved for reference for at least, seven (7) years.
Some of the sanctions for the failure/refusal to comply with provisions of the Guidelines are:
- Withholding Corporate approvals
- Financial penalties
- Suspension from mobile money operation
- Revocation of the mobile money operation license.
Cessation of Mobile Money Operator
MMOs wishing to exit from the mobile payments system are to notify the CBN in writing regarding the intention for the discontinuation, 120 days before ceasing its operations.
The Guidelines provide the minimum standards required of MMOs to ensure secure mobile money transactions and ensure fair and healthy competition in the Nigerian financial sector.
These Guidelines are very far reaching and have severe sanctions for non-compliance. MMOs should therefore ensure compliance with the provisions of the Guidelines and Framework.
Read the original publication at Goldsmiths Solicitors