No Bank Nearby? No Problem. Cellphone Banking Booms in Developing World

Worldcrunch – Mexico City – In the Philippines, a trip to the bank can sometimes take two days – and might require a boat to get there. Such is life in a country that’s made up of some 7,000 islands, not all of which have their own bank branches.

Those who are not willing or able to take an overnight ferry just to pay a telephone or electricity bill can turn instead to a “collector,” someone who makes it his business to go from island to island collecting bills and the money to pay them – all for a commission, of course.

In recent years, however, a third option has emerged: mobile banking. Since 2006, the dominant mobile phone company in the country have been converting cell phones into payment platforms, for the cost of a text message and without the necessity of opening a bank account. It could mean an end to “collectors.”

Filipinos make some 150 million mobile phone banking transactions annually, including money transfers, service payments and subsidy payments. There’s huge room for growth as well – particularly in rural areas. About 40% of the country’s municipalities are without a bank. But almost all Filipinos have a cell phone.

“Electronic money is an opportunity to include a large percentage of the population in a cost-effective way,” says Nestor Espenilla, deputy director of the Filipino Central Bank.

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