UK wireless telco O2 has set up a personal finance unit and launched two pre-paid cards as it looks to tap into the burgeoning mobile banking market.
The Telefónica subsidiary has partnered high street bank NatWest on the free Visa cards; Cash Manager, for adults and Load & Go, targeted at teenagers.
Available next month, the cards can be topped up online and in stores, with customers receiving real-time balance updates sent to their mobile phone. They can be used in store, online and at ATMs.
O2 says the cards will help people better manage their money and ring-fence disposable income, never spending more than has been loaded onto the card.
Ronan Dunne, UK chief executive, O2, says: "O2 has a strong and successful track record of innovation and O2 Money will represent a launchpad into a wide range of mobile banking services. We believe that we are at the start of a journey towards the coming together of phone and wallet and we intend, through O2 Money, to be at the forefront of this trend."
Helen Page, MD, marketing and innovation, NatWest, says: "These cash cards, delivered in partnership with O2, are the first step on the road towards a more advanced mobile banking service, and the closer alignment between mobile phones and payment technology."
Global mobile banking take up is set to soar over the next five years, with the number of people using the technology growing from 20 million in 2008 to 913 million in 2014, according to recent research from Berg Insight.
Contactless mobile payments also offer an opportunity for telcos. O2 has already worked with Transport for London and Nokia to trial a scheme enabling customers to pay for tube journeys using mobile handsets.