Monitise is starting with a relatively simple mobile money deployment in Hong Kong, with plans to turn it into a major payments business throughout China.

The mobile money platform, called Easy TopUP, enables users to reload prepaid SIM cards with funds taken directly from the user's bank account, rather than purchasing vouchers from stores. Monitise, of London, was one of 100 companies that accompanied British Prime Minister David Cameron on a recent trade mission to China.

"It took a fair amount of work from a regulatory perspective to get set up in China, but the opportunity is major," says Lisa Stanton, president of the Americas for Monitise. Regulatory approval was required because the Chinese government considered the product to be a new financial service, she says.

Bank of China is the initial bank to provide Montise mobile money services to consumers, in cooperation with the Joint Electronic Teller Service Limited (Jetco), a Chinese ATM network provider.  Easy TopUP is the first mobile top up service Jetco is offering to its network of about 30 member banks in Hong Kong and Macau. The user interface operates in Chinese and English, and can accommodate Chinese language characters. 

Easy TopUP works with SIM cards from PCCW-HKT, a Hong Kong-based telecommunication company.

Jetco provides access to funds in real time through its payments switching capabilities. The platform was designed to connect the networks of mobile money users, such as banks and mobile network operators, enabling the creation of other payment products and services.  Monitise works with local partners to develop banking, payments and commerce services for the region.

Monitise has also deployed mobile payments in the U.S., Canada and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region. Its experience operating in Canada, where Near Field Communication is the primary method of executing contactless payments, will help the company in China, Stanton says. "China is largely NFC, they have been doing that a long time before any of us thought of that."

Monitise does not have a detailed product launch calendar, but plans to gradually deploy top up services across China alongside other mobile financial services, with a trial of single-click purchases among the early tests. The company also plans to develop contactless payments.

"Our Asia Pacific office is in Hong Kong, so it was a natural fit for us to start in Hong Kong and to go from there," Stanton says.

China Mobile first deployed contactless payments in China in 2010, and China Unicom launched its service the following year.

"China is a huge contactless country," Stanton says. Alipay, an electronic commerce company with a model similar to PayPal, is also building a mobile payments business in China by targeting vending machines and other point of sale terminals.

Despite the number of players and potential size of the Chinese market, Monitise is pursuing a market that is still in its early stages. 

"From Hong Kong's perspective, it is a very mature market for smartphone services," says Sandy Shen, a research director at Gartner.

In terms of mobile payments, Hong Kong is still at an early stage, similar to other developed markets, where people mostly use online services such as Amazon and eBay on their mobile phones, Shen says.

"This service by Monitise is very much based on the mobile banking platform that banks can allow their customers to use to top up the mobile phone account for a particular carrier," Shen says. "We expect to see more banks and carriers joining in the future, and perhaps more functions to be launched. At this stage, this is still quite a baby step towards mobile payment."

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