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GSMA grants aims to boost mobile money services for unbanked

Microfinance Focus, Nov. 20, 2009: The GSMA, the body that represents the worldwide mobile communications industry, revealed the details of six additional grants from the Mobile Money for the Unbanked Fund (MMU), which is administered by the GSMA Foundation.
New grantees include AKTEL in Bangladesh, Dialog Telekom PLC in Sri Lanka, Grameen Phone in Bangladesh, MTN Cameroon, MTN Uganda and Vodacom Tanzania. Grants are available for projects promoting the uptake of mobile money services for the unbanked and underbanked, with funding for projects up to a value of US$ 1 million.
“These and our previously announced MMU grants are being used to significantly accelerate acceptance and adoption of mobile money services for base of the pyramid customers globally,” said Gavin Krugel, Director GSMA. “The operators are working to reduce the infrastructure gap that exists in rural areas and are making mCommerce more accessible, convenient and affordable to customers.”
In Bangladesh, AKTEL will use the funds to launch a electricity bill payment system using mobile phones. Separately, AKTEL will also introduce the mCommerce system this month, which uses SMS and IVR services to assist financially constrained rural communities to mobilize money more easily. Grameenphone, also in Bangladesh, aims to improve penetration of financial services in rural areas and enable migrant workers in urban locations to remit funds to their families based in those rural communities.
By reaching the underbanked in a country where only 13% of the population have bank account, the  Grameenphone and AKTEL initatives will enable individuals to create financial identities which will benefit the whole community, according to GSMA. “With regulatory approval, the implementation of mobile money services will enable Bangladeshis to take advantage of more efficient, less time consuming and more secure new services and in the long run help alleviate poverty in Bangladesh”, the GSMA said in a statement.
“Mobile money can change the lives of unbanked people for the better. Mobile money services bring genuine and immediate benefits, by helping people carry out the kind of daily transactions and remittances we take for granted, or by providing monetary tools to help improve a small business or even set one up. For most it will be the first time they have had a financial identity – this is a profound and positive change,” says Principal Analyst Eden Zoller.
Sri Lankan-based Dialog plans to introduce mCommerce services to the North and North-Central provinces of Sri Lanka. Dialog will focus on regions deficient in financial services infrastructure and  to provide mCommerce services including utility bill payment, person-to-person money transfers, over-the-counter payments and cash withdrawal/deposits.
Less than 10 per cent of the working population of Cameroon has a bank account due to poor banking infrastructure and low penetration, says the GSMA. In addition, as the majority of Cameroonians are self employed, they do not have the payslips that are required to open accounts. MTN’s MobileMoney service, which was created by partnering with a large microfinance network, will target the self-employed such as farmers, workers and small entrepreneurs. enabling them to transfer money  for making a variety of payments. Subject to regulatory approval, MobileMoney will also enable customer to received and pay utility bills.
In Uganda, where 60% of the populace does not have access to any type of financial services and 71% save in “secret” places according to GSMA research. MTN aims to connect the 86% of people who live and work in rural areas to banking services, paying particular interest to small-scale traders and those who buy and sell agricultural produce. MTN services will enable merchants to use mobile phones to transfer money rather than carrying cash. This will reduce transport costs and their vulnerability to opportunistic thieves, says the GSMA.
Vodacom Tanzania has an established and growing M-PESA customer base; however lack of disposable cash for sales agents, such as small shop owners, limits their ability to buy “e-float” credit to sell to customers. This hampers the ability of agents to meet demand and limiting growth of customer usage, argues the GSMA. The MMU grant will support a project to enable Vodacom Tanzania to provide a geographically wider line of e-money credit or revolving credit and increase total float holding value within the M-PESA agent network.
The MMU Fund exists to accelerate mobile money deployments which target base of the pyramid customers who are unbanked and is considering applications from operators around the world. The MMU program is supported by a US$12.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
GSMA represents the interests of the worldwide mobile communications industry, and includes around 800 mobile operators from 219 countries and a further 200 related companies such as handset makers and equipment providers.