Mexico pioneers LatAm mobile banking joint venture

Mobile banking services could be set to take off in Latin America following the announcement of a joint venture between the region’s most prolific operator, America Movil, and the US bank Citigroup.

The new venture, named Transfer, will begin offering services in Mexico early next year. America Movil CEO Daniel Hajj has stated that the firm is aiming for around 15% of its current customers to adopt the service over the next three to four years.

The service will be made available to the operator’s existing subscribers; with over 236 million connections at the beginning of Q3 2011, 35 million customers would need to adopt the service for the firm to meet its goal.

A high percentage of Latin America’s population is unbanked, so the new service may be something of a revelation in the region – in Mexico, for example, people with mobile phones outnumber those with bank accounts by around three to one.

The service will allow customers to open bank accounts, pay bills, shop online and transfer money via mobile phone, as well as use their phone as a surrogate bank card to withdraw cash from ATMs and purchase items in stores.

Transfer will be an open platform, allowing it to be used by governments – for example, as a means of paying wages, remittances and subsidies - as well as other mobile operators and banks. Transactions using the service will incur a small fee – around 1-2 pesos in Mexico (7-15 US cents) – with the proceeds divided equally between the joint venture partners.

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