June 28, 2010

European financial services company Societe Generale today is deploying a mobile payment service to banked and unbanked customers in Africa who have access to a mobile phone. Launched thorugh Societe Generale de Banques au Senegal, Yoban'tel by Obopay is a carrier-agnostic service that will allow users to make mobile payments and transfers through their cell phone.

With about a four-to-one ratio of citizens who have cell phones versus citizens who have bank accounts, Societe Generale saw Senegal as a good market to provide a mobile payments service that doesn't necessarily require a bank account.

"In Senegal, traditional banking services are typically very limited; people can spend an entire day each month standing in line ot pay for things like their utility services in cash," said Richard Hababou, managing director of Societe Generale innovations Group. "Yoban'tel by Obopay allows us to establish innovative and convenient mobile money transfer and payments for those Senegalese who have previously not had access to such services."

The service, which uses mobile payments provider Obopay's Mobile Money for Banks product, is primarily deployed through SMS. When money is sent to another person, the payee receives a code which they can take to an agent location along with a government-issued ID to receive cash. Another option with payments is to create a Societe Generale bank account or stored value account from which they can hold money to make payments or transfers.

"What we're seeing from other developing nations is a stored value account is a strong service for those who haven't had a bank account before," says David Schwartz, head of product and corporate marketing for Obopay.

Schwartz indicates that Societe Generale saw Senegal as a good market to first deploy the service, and that the bank could expand it into neighboring countries in Africa and parts of Europe in the future.