Vodafone is launching its M-Pesa mobile money service, previously limited to the developing world, in central and eastern Europe starting in Romania.
The operator has acquired an e-money licence in order to offer financial services in Europe, according to an interview given to the Financial Times by Michael Joseph (pictured), Vodafone’s director of mobile money and one of the driving forces behind M-Pesa.
Joseph spelled out Vodafone’s rollout strategy for M-Pesa with its initial focus on central and eastern Europe: “There are one or two [countries] we are looking at but [these are] unlikely to be in western Europe in the next year or so.”
However, countries with a large migrant population such as Italy were potential markets, he added, presumably referring to carrying remittance payments via mobile handsets.
M-Pesa is famously associated with its success in Kenya but Vodafone has also launched the service in other sub-Saharan African countries including Tanzania as well as Egypt and India.
Vodafone did not spell out other launch markets in central and eastern Europe but it operates in Albania, Czech Republic and Hungary, in addition to Romania.
And partners in other markets could also offer M-Pesa. It has used licensing deals for the money service in the past.
Romania looks like an archetypal M-Pesa market: It has a high penetration of mobile phones but more than one-third of the population do not have access to conventional banking services.
From launch, Romanian customers can transfer cash to other users, as well as make payments. Transfers as small as RON1 (€0.22) up to RON30,000 are possible per day.
In addition to money transfers, M-Pesa will enable Romanians to top up pre-paid balances via their handsets, pay utility bills, make a deposit or withdraw cash from a network of agents and make low-value transactions such as buying flowers, newspapers and a coffee.