How USSD Code is Breaking Grounds in Ghana – Part 2

INTRODUCTION

The first part of this article was published last week in which I touched on the usefulness of USSD, its advantages, unique features and why it is currently one of the best available communications technology to deliver mobile financial services to low-income customers.

Majority of large scale mobile financial services (MFS) deployments in the developing world like M-Pesa in Kenya use USSD as their primary mechanism for communication between customers and their mobile payments platform. These include bKash in Bangladesh; Wing in Cambodia; EasyPaisa in Pakistan; Tigo and M-Pesa in Tanzania and EcoCash in Zimbabwe, to name just a few. In Ghana, it is just Mobile Money.

NEW TYPES OF SERVICES USING USSD

Revenue mobilization application by utility service providers and SMEs offer new types of services using USSD. My humble suggestions for adoption are with respect to these areas.

Ghana Revenue Authority in its bid to improve service delivery to its clients, the taxpayers, can implement a USSD phone-based services platform. For the purpose of this article, let call it GRA USSD-Service.

USSD Informational Services: The USSD informational services are meant to have the taxpayer access specific information held in GRA by making simple queries on the menu driven USSD. This is aimed at decongesting GRA banking halls as taxpayers will be able to get the information through their mobile phones rather than by visiting GRA offices.

For successful USSD query, you will be required to have some basic information (identifier) of what you are querying and since the USSD Service is menu-driven, you are required to dial the USSD code say *900# to access the GRA USSD service menu. You should then type in the relevant identifier for the service sought e.g. PIN, Vehicle Registration Number, TIN, etc.

The GRA USSD-Service can have the following services;

  • Domestic Taxes: Individual PIN Checker, Company PIN Checker, Tax Compliance Certificate Status Checker, Tax Station Enquiry etc.
  • Customs Services: Clearing Agent Status, Entry Status Validation, Direct Assessment Amount Payable, Temporary Car Exportation Status, etc.

The GRA USSD-Service will be meant to simplify the tax payment process as well as provide taxpayers with a more convenient alternative for payment of all taxes. The good news is that the government can get taxes filed by people leaving even in remote areas of Ghana where Internet is an issue. This will also work on all the GSM networks in Ghana.

Another area is the Electricity Cooperation of Ghana. USSD will be a good option for ECG prepaid customers. Just to mention few, other areas include Transportation, Agriculture, Health and Education.

Furthermore, Schools can use USSD to accept payment of fees, Churches can also use USSD for tithe payment (eg: *447*44#) and Associations can use USSD for donations purposes (eg: *800*30# by Institute of ICT Professionals). Also, Event Organizers can use it for sales of ticket, Bookshops can now sell their book on USSD (eg: *800*200#) and Restaurants can use it for customers to order their food.

On the other side of the coin, USSD menus messages cannot be stored in a phone – Just imagine viewing your exam results in a USSD message, which will disappear due to session time-out. This is why USSD works well with SMS. USSD codes are not as memorable as short codes. However, with global USSD, long numbers that can be stored in a phone are provided to eliminate the burden of a user memorizing a USSD code. Despite these limitations, its advantages are worth investing in, and I must say USSD is now a “hot cake” on the market. USSD is gaining more popularity for its interactive menu-driven services like mobile banking, roaming with prepaid service, callback services, mobile chat, software upgrades, et cetera.

 

How a company or individual can get USSD service.

USSD service is offered by licensed VASP (Value Added Service Providers) companies such as TXT Ghana, smsgh, and Cellulant (Visit http://www.waspag.com/ for more).

 

Best Practices to Secure USSD-based Mobile

Payment Application:

  1. Validate all trusted (local data storage or server data storage) and not trusted (invalid user inputs e.g., special characters) inputs in the application.
  2. Secure the interface between payment gateways and mobile payment application
  3. Secure data transmission from handheld devices to the application server
  4. Secure data storage on local handheld devices
  5. Implement proper session management in the application
  6. Implement a strong encryption mechanism to store sensitive data
  7. Employ a strong authentication mechanism in the application
  8. Use two-way authentication while performing critical financial transactions
  9. Employ response and request messages encryption
  10. Implement a proper message authentication mechanism to validate that requests/responses are generated through authenticated users
  11. Use secure USSD communication channels with a strong encryption mechanism.

 

The future of USSD Messaging?

 The future survival of USSD technology might depend on the institutions backing it. Sector players need to ensure that the integrity of USSD structure is not weakened. That will ensure that services such as mobile money still grow with low fraud levels and other services can also be built on top of these legacy technologies.

USSD has large growth potential especially across the link between mobile billing; that is to make a mobile transaction while in a USSD session, quickly and securely.

Can Ghana take advantage of this USSD Technology?

 

Author: Ebenezer Kwaku Osei Owusu – Business and System Analyst (Member: Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana)

For comments, contact author  eben.owusugh@gmail.com  Mobile: +233266000751.