Visa's launch of a plug-and-play mobile money platform speaks to a rapidly maturing trend of using mobility to spread financial services to underbanked consumers and developing countries.

The new system allows Visa, which has been gradually building up to target underbanked consumers, to host and fully manage all aspects of a mobile money platform on behalf of the provider, including user interface design, consumer enrollment, transaction processing, authorization, clearing and settlement—targeting domestic or globally interoperable mobile money services.

Visa, which announced the system this morning, was not immediately available for comment.

MasterCard has also been building underbanked services, including a partnership with Western Union.

The Visa service will debut in India, via a partnership with mobile carrier Aircel, and in Rwanda through partnerships with Bank of Kigali and Urwego Opportunity Bank. Those banks will offer financial accounts linked to consumers’ mobile phone numbers. Financial services will include cash-in and cash-out transactions at agent locations, bill payment, remittances, topping-up air time, and buying train tickets. Aircel is India’s fifth largest and fastest growing GSM mobile service provider.

“As demand grows, so does the cost and complexity to maintain these services," said Bill Gajda, head of global mobile products for Visa, in a release. "Visa’s new mobile money platform is designed to allow mobile operators and financial institutions to focus on their core business, while leaving the management of their mobile money service to Visa.”

The system will be hosted in Visa-managed data centers, and will use technology from Fundamo, a mobile money company Visa bought in 2011 as part of the card network’s strategy to extend services to underbanked regions.

The platform offers a local connection to Visa’s global payment network, VisaNet,  and allows Visa, on behalf of the provider, to manage customer enrollment and mobile wallet user interface, fees, commissions and taxes, as well as apply risk management and reporting. Providers can also enable transactions across all mobile channels via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD-a protocol used by mobile phone operators), xHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language, a key language to enable mobile commerce), and IVR (Interactive Voice Response). It also supports bulk registration, balance inquiries, PIN and account management. 

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