Nokia has tied with Union Bank of India to roll out mobile payment services that are targeted at the large number of Indians who do not have banking facilities.
The service will enable consumers to transfer money to other persons, withdraw cash at automated teller machines (ATMs) and designated retail stores, and pay utility bills as well as recharge pre-paid mobile connections, Nokia said on Friday.
Using the service, called "Union Bank Money powered by Nokia", Union Bank and Nokia plan to take banking services to over 10 million people across 32,000 villages by 2013. The service has been rolled out in Gurgaon near Delhi, with plans for a country-wide rollout in the next few months.
India's central bank, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has been attempting to make it easier for Indian banks to reach rural people by allowing them to appoint "banking correspondents" in remote locations where there are no bank branches. These correspondents, which can include small retail outlets, are allowed to open new accounts, dispense and accept cash from customers, and offer other services on behalf of the bank.
The service from Nokia and Union Bank is based on the Obopay mobile payment platform, and will be available on a range of mobile phones, including those from vendors other than Nokia, a Nokia spokeswoman said. The service is also independent of the mobile operators.
Once they have created an account at a correspondent outlet, and installed the banking application on the phone, users can use SMS (Short Message Service) to transfer funds or receive money, the spokeswoman added. The mobile number will be the unique identifier for the purpose of the bank.
Users will be charged a fee on certain transactions. Nokia did not discuss its revenue sharing agreement with the bank.
Nokia is already offering a similar service since last year in three locations in a tie-up with another bank, Yes Bank. The company will explore similar tie-ups with other banks, the spokeswoman said.
Nokia will supplement 3,000 Union Bank branches across the country with its large network of retail outlets, some of which will serve as correspondents for Union Bank money services.
The company currently has 200,000 retailers in the country selling its phones, of which about 70,000 sell only Nokia phones, the spokeswoman said. The company has not finalized on how many of these retailers will be acting as correspondents for the service.
The RBI amended the rules for banking correspondents in September to allow "for profit" companies to do the job, besides individuals, non-governmental organizations, cooperative societies and post offices.
India's mobile operators are also trying to get into the mobile payments business. Bharti Airtel, the largest mobile operator in the country, has tied with State Bank of India, India's largest commercial bank, to take banking services to people who do not currently have the facility. The mobile operator launched separately in January its "airtel money" service which allows users to purchase Airtel currency which can then be used to make payments using mobile phones.
ICICI Bank, India's largest private sector bank, also announced a tie-up with Vodafone Essar, the Indian joint venture of Vodafone, to offer financial products such as savings accounts, pre-paid instruments and credit products through a mobile phone platform.
The mobile banking ventures are expected to help the operators get customer loyalty while boosting their flagging margins, analysts said.