Nokia has announced that it's getting into mobile money with its new, imaginatively named, "Nokia Money" initiative in conjunction with mpayment specialists Obopay. The new mobile wallet application, aimed squarely at the unbanked in emerging markets, will allow users to make payments, transfer money, pay bills and top up their prepay. They're also building a network of agents to allow users to deposit and withdraw cash.
In emerging markets mobile money is THE growth area. Mobile offers the only viable option for many financial transactions due to the lack of banking infrastructure. The average country in Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, has less than one bank per 100,000 people, compared to about 1 per 3,500 people in the United States. Almost half of subscribers to one Kenyan mobile operator are registered for their m-payment service and they reported over USD200 million of funds transferred in March 2009 alone. Almost 8% of that company's ARPU is accounted for by m-payments and that figure is rising. In that context, it is hardly surprising that Nokia is looking at getting a piece of the action as they extend beyond devices and into services.
What's generally lacking in mobile payment systems is interoperability. Let's hope Nokia helps rather than hinders that. Let's not forget the importance that interop had in driving SMS. The same will be true of m-money, although being a bit less P2P it's not as critical.
For more on this area, see Analysys Mason's forthcoming report Sub-Saharan Africa telecoms market: regional overview 2009.
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