Vodafone brings M-Pesa mobile money to Europe with Romanian launch

Users can activate their phone at any one of around 300 Vodafone stores

After mixed success in other markets, mobile money pioneer Vodafone is launching its M-Pesa payment service in Europe, starting with Romania.

M-Pesa is based on text messaging technology and operates over any of Vodafone Romania's mobile network connections. Users can transfer any amount from one Romanian new leu (US$0.31) up to 30,000 lei.

The country is a good fit for the service because a majority of its citizens have at least one mobile device, but more than one third of the population doesn't have access to conventional banking, according to Vodafone.

From Monday, M-Pesa will be accessible to approximately 6 million people in both rural and urban areas in Romania. It can be activated at any one of about 300 Vodafone stores, at participating retail outlets and through authorized agents. By the end of the year there will be a total of 2,000 retail and other distribution points, Vodafone said.

Users will be able to top up their mobile phones, pay bills, make deposits, withdraw cash from participating agents and purchase goods.

In the last few years, a number of mobile money transfer and payment services have been launched around the world with varied levels of success, but M-Pesa has seen some success. It had approximately 16.8 million active customers who made more than €900 million worth of person-to-person transactions per month toward the end of 2013.

The service was originally launched in Kenya in 2007, where it has been a hit. Vodafone's strategy has been, since the service's inception, to go after countries where there are a lot of people without bank accounts.

M-Pesa is also available in countries such as Afghanistan, Egypt, India and South Africa, but its level of success in these markets has been mixed.

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