A revolution is underway in mobile money, with smartphones quickly becoming the platform of choice for rapidly transferring funds around the world. At the forefront of such innovation, Barclays Bank has been extending its international mobile payments network to some of Africa’s largest economies.

Transferring money internationally is becoming as easy — and as fast — as punching a number into your mobile phone.

Enhancing its groundbreaking mobile banking capability in recent months, Barclays has extended the reach of its popular payments app, Barclays Pingit, to some of Africa’s largest economies – with a Europe-wide rollout to follow. Users of the bank’s smartphone app can now send payments instantly and securely to family, friends and business associates in Kenya, Botswana, Ghana and Zambia simply by knowing the recipient’s mobile phone number. And that transfer can be made from any UK bank or building society; if the sender is not using a Barclays account, their mobile number is linked to another UK bank with a new Barclays Pingit Wallet Account.

Barclays Pingit is already widely acclaimed by customers and banking industry analysts alike in the UK. In its first year in the UK alone, the app, which is available for Android, Apple and BlackBerry devices, was downloaded by over 1.3 million people.

1.3m UK bank customers have downloaded the Barclays Pingit mobile app

The service is tapping into soaring customer demand for on-the-go banking services. According to technology industry research group Gartner, the number of mobile payment users worldwide doubled in 2012 from 160.5m to 212.2m. And other analysts predict that within three years, the mobile device will be the most common customer touchpoint for banks – overtaking interaction via PC, telephone or branch services.

Barclays Pingit works by securely aligning a customer’s UK bank account to their mobile phone number, allowing them to send up to £1,500 per day to individuals or £15,000 to businesses from any UK account. Individuals can receive payments from multiple people of up to £5,000 per day and businesses an unlimited amount, and, in all cases, these numbers are doubled for joint accounts.

To take advantage of the fast-expanding African coverage, recipients simply need to register with a local Barclays Hello Money service and provide their mobile number to the UK-based sender to receive funds. And while the sender needs to initiate the transaction using Barclays Pingit on a smartphone registered in the UK that is not the case for the recipient: all they need is a phone that supports text messaging — so they are alerted when funds arrive.

Unlike traditional international services which can take up to nine days for the money to clear and typically involve a fee, payments with Barclays Pingit are sent instantly, arriving within minutes. Sending via Barclays Pingit is free of any fees; the only overheads are the cost of the foreign currency exchange, which would be part of any such transaction, and any fee charged by the recipient’s bank.

Barclays Pingit has also been growing in sophistication: it now works with QR-type barcodes (a useful productivity feature for businesses sending multiple invoices to Barclays Pingit users) and it offers the option of sending polite “request payment” messages.

The flexibility of the Barclays Pingit platform creates the prospect a mobile global payments ecosystem.

Boom in mobile transfers

Africa is an obvious first choice for the extension of Barclays Pingit beyond the UK’s shores. Countries like Kenya already have well-established and sophisticated patterns of mobile finance through the early adoption of products such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa service and Barclays Hello Money, which has 120,000 customers in the country.

Personal ties are also strong between many African countries and the UK. There are over 200,000 people living in the UK who were born in Kenya, according to the latest available numbers from the Office for National Statistics, and many more with a Kenyan heritage or who have a family or business connection with the country.

According to the Central Bank of Kenya, the equivalent of $1.2 billion of remittance payments, so-called ‘diaspora remittances’, were made into the country from Kenyans working abroad in the year to 31 May 2013, a rise of 14% on the year-earlier period.

Creating an m-payment ecosystem

Barclays executives regard the development of Barclays Pingit as a potential game-changer for the international money transfer market. The bank is in the process of extending the service across Africa — with South Africa, Tanzania, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Uganda, the Seychelles and Mauritius on its rollout list. Further geographies will follow, says Graeme Jones, head of mobile engagement at Barclays — Barclays Pingit for continental European countries is expected to debut later in 2014 — with the flexibility of the platform supporting the prospect of joining all those up to create a “global payments ecosystem,” says Jones.

That ambition is not unrelated to the strategy of making Barclays Pingit openly available to customers of all UK banks and building societies. And with some surprising results: During 2012 alone, Barclays recruited more new accounts using Barclays Pingit than through its online account opening process, reports Jones.

Barclays Pingit is just one of a string of recent technology innovations by Barclays, all designed to give customers simpler and more convenient ways to access and manage their accounts. Its free mobile banking app, introduced in mid-2012, enables personal and small business customers to view their balances and recent transactions, make transfers between accounts, pay bills and find branches or ATMs — all from their Android, Apple or Blackberry device.

And Barclays was the first organisation globally to introduce passive voice biometric technology to automatically verify customers’ identities, streamlining the telephone banking service for its international customers.

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