The world's top mobile phone maker Nokia said on Wednesday it would launch a mobile financial service next year targeting consumers, mainly in emerging markets, with a phone but no banking account.
Nokia said its Nokia Money service was based on the mobile payment platform of Obopay, a privately-owned firm that Nokia invested in earlier this year, and it is now building up a network of agents.
Obopay, which uses text messaging and mobile internet access, charges users a fee to send money or to top up their accounts.
Mobile-enabled financial services has tremendous growth opportunities, Nokia Chief Development Officer Mary McDowell said, noting there are 4 billion mobile phone users globally but only 1.6 billion bank accounts and 1 billion credit cards.
There is pretty significant gap between people, especially in emerging markets, who have a mobile device yet don't have a bank account, she said.
The announcement is the latest push by Nokia to diversify its business as global handset sales have gone from slowing down over the past few years to contracting due to the recession. The firm also said this week that it would start to make laptops.
Mobile money is one of the hottest topics in the wireless world, but so far take-up of services has been limited mostly to a few emerging markets, as in developed countries, the popularity of online banking has been a brake on mobile money.
The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a U.S.-based microfinance policy and research center, has said the market for mobile financial services to poor people in emerging markets will surge from nothing to $5 billion in 2012.
The service began in early 2007 with a launch of Safaricom's
M-PESA in Kenya, which has attracted 6.5 million customers, or one in six Kenyans. By the end of 2009, CGAP expects more than 120 mobile money implementations in developing markets.
McDowell said Nokia wanted to move beyond a system in which people were tied to a single operator or bank, noting that the Obopay works with both Nokia and non-Nokia handsets.
She told Reuters it was too early to talk about revenue or profitability expectations, saying only that the business model for us is to participate in the transaction stream as well.
Nokia did not announce any partnerships with operators or financial institutions, only saying that Nokia Money would be rolled out gradually to selected markets starting in early 2010.
Nokia shares, already firmer ahead of the announcement, were up 5.1 percent at 9.28 euros at 1417 GMT, outpacing a positive Dow Jones Stoxx Technology Index ..
(Reporting by Brett Young; editing by Karen Foster)