* Launch targets 7 mln in Romania who mainly use cash
* M-Pesa has 16.8 mln active customers in emerging markets
* Mobile payments expected to grow rapidly in coming years
(Adds industry forecasts)
By Kate Holton
LONDON, March 31 Vodafone brought the
mobile money service that has revolutionised banking in Africa
to Romania on Monday, offering M-Pesa text-message transactions
to millions of customers in its first push into Europe.
Vodafone said it had chosen Romania to target the seven
million people there who still mainly use cash rather than
cards, and others with bank accounts who could still benefit
from transferring money by text.
Customers can use M-Pesa to pay for goods, pay bills, make
deposits and withdraw cash from authorised agents. Users will be
able to transfer as little as one new Romanian leu or up to
30,000 lei ($9,200) per day.
"The majority of people in Romania have at least one mobile
device, but more than one third of the population do not have
access to conventional banking," said Vodafone's director of
mobile money, Michael Joseph.
Services such as M-Pesa have helped Vodafone, the world's
second largest mobile operator by customer numbers, to support
revenues and grow customer loyalty at a time of falling prices
for basic telecoms services such as calls.
The British group launched M-Pesa in Kenya in 2007 through
its Safaricom operations. Since then the service has spread
rapidly and in the last 12 months it has rolled the service out
to its operations in Egypt, India, Lesotho and Mozambique.
About 16.8 million customers were actively using the service
by the end of last year, making more than $1.2 billion worth of
transactions per month.
Vodafone had 8.3 million customers in Romania at the end of
PIECE OF PIE
"Vodafone believes that mobile money could reach around 10
percent of service revenues across its emerging markets
businesses over time," analysts at Espirito Santo said, of the
company's ongoing revenue stream that strips out one-off costs.
"The move in to Eastern Europe therefore is encouraging,
though we do not expect any meaningful contribution from Western
Europe at this time."
While slow to take off in all parts of the world, global
mobile payments are predicted to grow rapidly over the next few
years, with telecoms groups, retailers and banks all trying to
secure a piece of the pie.
According to a "Mobile Money for the Unbanked" report by
mobile industry body the GSMA, the number of users actively
using mobile money services globally hit more than 61 million at
the end of June 2013, up from 37 million a year before. Around
220 services are available in 84 countries.
While the focus in emerging markets has been on text-based
transactions, the focus in mature markets is on developing
contactless payment systems to allow consumers to pay for goods
by swiping their phones on a terminal in a store.
The use of smartphones has already enabled consumers in
mature markets to transfer money and check their balance via
banking software on their handsets.
In Europe Vodafone is likely to focus its mobile money
service on east or central Europe. It also has operations in
Hungary and Czech Republic and a presence through partnerships
with other operators in Latvia, Poland and Austria.
In Romania, Vodafone customers will be able to transfer
money via the text messaging technology once they have activated
the service at a Vodafone retail store, participating retail
outlets or through authorised agents.
($1 = 3.2448 Romanian lei);($1 = 0.7271 euros)
(Editing by Pravin Char)