The canonical example of success in mobile banking is Kenya’s mPesa, powered by Safaricom. With millions of users and roughly 25% penetration rate in Kenya, mPesa powers branchless banking in the heart of Africa. 

Combining the phone and pre-paid card distribution network of the carrier with the accounting, credit and fraud systems of a bank proved to be the keys to success, enabling peer to peer as well as B2C transactions, securely. Given the dramatic growth of mobile devices all over the world, and the huge number of unbanked in developing countries and consequently enormous market, this model will be replicated elsewhere.

Recognizing this opportunity, China Mobile made a significant move yesterday:

China Mobile (NYSE: CHL) is looking to get a major stake in the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, which is a medium-sized Chinese lender. The world’s largest mobile operator by subscribers is looking to acquire a 20% stake for CNY40 billion, which is about $5.9 billion.

via IntoMobile

Both in the US and elsewhere, carriers are handling greater volumes of payment transactions. Ten years ago, it was ringtones and wall paper, a $750M industry, but today mobile billing powers application stores, virtual goods payments both on the mobile device and on the web, in addition to e-commerce. eBay generated $500M in sales in 6 months over their single iPhone app in the second half of last year.

Recognizing this opportunity, over the next few years, carriers will respond, actively pursuing this market as they have a key resource in the ecosystem: the billing relationship with the customer. Whether all carriers will acquire stakes in banks to provide key faculties in transaction processing like China Mobile remains to be seen, but partnerships will inevitably be unveiled.