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How To Use USSD-based Mobile Banking without Internet

Dream of Digital India by PM Narendra Modi was the reason for the demonetization of high value currency notes that forced India to brace up a cashless economy. With cash crunch due to shortage of new currency notes, many smartphone users have already moved to digital wallets to pay at food courts, fast-food outlets and petrol pumps, or for making landline and electricity bill payments, mobile, DTH and data card refill, and more. Using smart phone in urban is easy but what about people in rural areas, who don’t own a smartphone, nor have access to the internet? Well, USSD-based mobile banking is the solution.

It’s not just about non-smartphone users. There are times when we don’t have access to internet, and this is exactly when USSD-based mobile banking can be a savior. Here, USSD is the abbreviation for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data. The Interface is built by National Unified USSD Platform (NUUP), and your bank and telecom operator are parties between whom the USSD communication takes place. The technology uses GSM network channels to transmit information. Essentially, it will work on a basic phone with black-and-white display, a feature phone and on smartphones.

Regional language support in USSD mobile banking

The service aims to make mobile banking easier for rural users, especially the non-English speaking ones. It is available in 11 regional languages and can be accessed in the desired language using the following short codes. Hindi (*99*22#), Marathi (*99*28#), Bengali (*99*29#), Punjabi (*99*30#), Kannada (*99*26#), Gujarati (*99*27#), Tamil (*99*23#), Telugu (*99*24#), Malayalam (*99*25#), Oriya (*99*32#) and Assamese (*99*31#).

USSD banking daily transaction limit and charges

According to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the USSD payment method can be used for sending money as low as Re 1, and as much as Rs 5,000 per transaction. Coming to charges, you will be charged Rs 0.50 per transaction, which will be added in your mobile bill. The service works 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. However, carriers have waived off the transaction charges till December 31.

Getting started with USSD banking

First and foremost, you need a phone, a bank account and your mobile number registered for mobile banking. In case your phone number isn’t registered with your bank, you’ll have to visit the branch and fill-up a form to register and link it with your bank account. Once that is done, you’ll have to generate Mobile Money Identifier (MMID) number. It is a random seven-digit number issued by the bank. The MMID is usually sent to you by the bank after you register for mobile banking.

You can also retrieve the MMID by sending an SMS, or by logging into your bank’s internet banking portal. However, the number for sending an SMS differs from one bank-to-the other, and so do the options on internet banking portals. I’d recommend giving a call to your bank’s customer care service as ask them for MMID. Along with the MMID, you’ll also need the MPIN (a four-digit code to authorize transitions). Once you get the default MPIN, you’ll have to change it to any four digits of your choice (more on that below).

How to use USSD codes

To begin with, open the dialer app on your phone, type *99# and dial. In case you want to menu’s in regional language, say in Hindi or in Gujarati, you need to dial *99*22# or *99*27#, respectively.

You will see the welcome screen after which you will have to enter first three letters, or IFSC code or 2-digit bank code followed by send. For State Bank of India (SBI), the three letters will be SBI, for ICICI Bank it will be ICI, whereas for HDFC Bank it will be HDF, and so on. In case of IFSC code, State Bank of India has SBIN, ICICI Bank has ICIC, HDFC Bank has HDFC and so on.

So, if you have your mobile banking registered with HDFC Bank, type HDF or HDFC and tap send. It will verify your phone number and bank details, and open bring up the sub-menu. Here, you will have options to check your account balance, check mini statement, or send money using MMID or IFSC. There is also an option to change the default MPIN that you get from the bank. If you want to check your account balance, enter ‘1’ in numerical and tap send, similarly for mini statement, enter ‘2’ and tap send.

How to transfer money using USSD short codes

In this example, I’ve used HDFC bank account to send money to my colleague using his MMID number. So, let’s see how to go about it.

Step 1: Dial *99#, type bank name, and when the interface opens, enter ‘3’ and tap send.

Step 2: Enter beneficiary mobile number.

Step 3: Enter beneficiary MMID, which you will have to get from the person you are sending money to.

Step 4: Next, you need to enter amount and remarks (separated by space). For instance, I transferred Rs 5 to test how this works, so it looks like “5 Test”

Step 5: In the final step, you have to enter your MPIN to authorize the transaction and last 4 digits of your account number (separated by space), and tap on send. That’s it, once your transaction is authorized, the money will be instantly credited to the recipients account.

USSD banking limitations

While the service does enable non-smartphone and non-internet users to send money using their phones, it is quite a tedious process. To begin with, once the USSD popup notification arrives, you have to respond within 10 seconds, or the process will get cancelled. When I was testing, I struggled to reach to step five as it would often throw an error saying ‘External application down.’ It gets quite annoying as you have to start over again, and again at such times. Having said that, the service still seems in its nascent stages and improvements could be expected going forward.

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