Economic downturn looks to stifle mobile money

The concept of the ‘mobile wallet' has been slowly gaining credibility in more developed markets, with Japan, once again, demonstrating to other regions that consumers will adopt the service if packaged and marketed correctly. About 50 million people, or about half of all Japanese cell phone users, already carry handsets capable of serving as electronic wallets.

Other nations, in particular Kenya and Turkey, have adopted the idea of mobile money with alacrity and millions of users have signed up to use their cell phones to transfer money to each other. A new study by Informa Telecoms & Media claims that, by 2013, over 420 million consumers will use the mobile phone to send over US$157 billion of personal funds within their own country, while a further 73 million will be sending US$48 billion of funds via mobile internationally--with the majority of this activity being driven by emerging markets.

The GSMA, which has become increasingly active in promoting the use of mobile money, claims there are more than 50 mobile money transfer projects in operation or development, including services available now from the Philippine operators Smart Communications and Globe Telecom, and Kenya's Safaricom.

But the progress of mobile money in Europe has been slowed to a snail's pace by the ongoing lack of any agreement between mobile operators and the financial services community. The overbearing problem remains customer ownership, with both industries believing they have a better and closer relationship with ‘their' customers, and neither wanting to share transaction revenues with the other.

While there was discussion at MWC that these two industries were now closer to an understanding than they had ever been, which may mean a considerable difference of opinion still exists, a fresh impediment has arisen to complicate any agreement--the perilous state of the international banking community and its reluctance to invest in new ventures.

An indication of upset comes from the World Bank which stated the value of international remittances sent to developing countries grew nearly 16 per cent in 2007 over the previous year, but only grew 6.5 per cent last year, to US$283 billion, and will fall nearly 1 per cent this year.

Another sign the market might be slowing came from Juniper Research which cut its forecast recently for mobile money transfers, predicting about US$73 billion would be sent through phones in 2011, or 50 per cent less than its earlier estimate. -Paul