March 6, 2007 / 1:51 PM / 13 years ago

Kenyans to transfer money using cell phones

A cell phone with a text message displayed is shown in Singapore in this November 12, 2006 file photo. Safaricom, Kenya's biggest cell phone firm, on Tuesday launched a money transfer service that will use short message services, which it said was the first of its kind in the world. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest cell phone firm, on Tuesday launched a money transfer service that will use short message services, which it said was the first of its kind in the world.

The product allows its 5.8 million subscribers to use their cell phones to send money in the east African country where it is commonplace for one family member working in the city to support a whole family living in rural areas.

“Only one in five Kenyans have access to financial services, this new service will allow Kenyans to send money home (to rural areas) with ease,” Safaricom’s Project Manager Susie Lonie said.

“This service is the first of its kind in the world. We have plans to take it elsewhere...the first international link, between the U.K. and Kenya, will come in the very near future,” she added at the launch of the service.

Kenyans will deposit or access the money through Safaricom agents like supermarkets or shops situated all over the country.

Safaricom — a joint venture between Kenya’s state-owned landline company, Telkom, and Britain’s Vodafone (VOD.L) — is the country’s most profitable company having made a 12.2 billion shilling ($175.5 million) pre-tax profit in 2006.

Kenya’s Minister for Communication, Mutahi Kagwe, highlighted the opportunity for remote communities: “This will help people in far-flung parts of the country who have no banking services, now anyone can have a bank in their pocket.”

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