The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $12.5 million to the GSM Association's Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program.
The program offers micro-finance and other services to millions of people in the developing world through mobile phones. It works with mobile operators, banks, micro-finance institutions, government and development organizations to make available banking services to "the unbanked".
"There are over 1 billion people in emerging markets today who don't have a bank account but do have a mobile phone," said GSMA CEO Rob Conway.
"This represents a huge opportunity and mobile operators are perfectly placed to bring mobile financial services to this largely untapped consumer base. Based on the initial findings of research conducted with the micro-finance center CGAP and McKinsey & Company, we believe that mobile money for the unbanked has the potential to become a $5 billion market opportunity over the next three years."
The MMU program will fund regulatory and market research to help overcome some of the barriers of providing these services and demonstrate the business case for serving this market.
The program includes a $5 million fund to back mobile finance innovations, the GSMA said.
The MMU program will support approximately 20 projects in developing countries, focusing on Africa, Asia and Latin America, with the goal of reaching 20 million previously unbanked people with mobile financial services by 2012.