London - Vodafone brought the mobile money service that has revolutionised banking in Africa to Romania yesterday, offering M-Pesa text message transactions to millions of customers in its first push into Europe.

Vodafone said it had chosen Romania to target the 7 million people there who still mainly used cash rather than cards, and others with bank accounts who could still benefit from transferring money by text. Customers can use M-Pesa to pay for goods, pay bills, make deposits and withdraw cash from authorised agents.

Users will be able to transfer as little as one new Romanian leu or up to 30 000 lei (R97 000) a day.

“The majority of people in Romania have at least one mobile device, but more than one third of the population do not have access to conventional banking,” said Vodafone’s director of mobile money, Michael Josep.

Services such as M-Pesa have helped Vodafone, the second-largest mobile operator by customer numbers, to support revenues and grow customer loyalty at a time of falling prices for basic telecoms services such as calls.

The British group launched M-Pesa in Kenya in 2007 through its Safaricom operations. Since then the service has spread rapidly and in the last 12 months it has rolled the service out to its operations in Egypt, India, Lesotho and Mozambique.

About 16.8 million customers were actively using the service by the end of last year, making more than $1.2 billion (R12.7bn) worth of transactions a month.

Vodafone had 8.3 million customers in Romania at the end of last year.

“Vodafone believes that mobile money could reach around 10 percent of service revenues across its emerging markets businesses over time,” analysts at Espirito Santo said, of the company’s ongoing revenue stream that strips out one-off costs.

“The move in to eastern Europe therefore is encouraging, though we do not expect any meaningful contribution from western Europe at this time.” – Reuters