BlackBerry BBM Mobile Payment Service Launches in Test Market

BlackBerry rules in Indonesia, where the company is trying out a BBM Money service that makes transferring dollars as easy as BBM-ing.

BlackBerry is testing out a new payments feature tied to its popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) feature in hopes that the offering will increase user loyalty to the phone brand.

Called BBM Money, the service is being rolled out in a pilot test to customers of PermataBank in Indonesia, and for now is limited to BlackBerry 5, 6 and 7 handsets. If the pilot is successful, BlackBerry plans to expand the offering to more banks in more countries.

BBM users with a PermataBank account can register for the application, visit a designated location to perform a one-time identity check, and then load cash into the BBM Money account through an ATM. The service is protected by bank-grade security measures, including encryption, passcode and monitoring, and is designed to make sending money to a friend as simple as messaging via BBM with that person.

"This initiative is a response to growing customers’ and society needs of easy and convenient banking services by using their smartphone," David Fletcher, president director of PermataBank, said in a Feb. 26 statement. "This is in line with our vision to be the pioneer in delivering innovative financial solutions and also reflects our support to Bank Indonesia's concept of a cashless society in Indonesia."

Calvin Lim, director of AGIT Monitise Indonesia, which helped to develop the offering, in a statement called BlackBerry phone "the favorite phones of most Inodneisians" and BBM the countries "most popular and indispensible service."

PermataBank has about 2 million customers and expects "a few hundred thousand" of them to sign up for BBM Money, an executive in charge of electronic channels at the bank told Bloomberg.

The feature follows the addition of video chatting to the BBM service, which BlackBerry is working hard to make even more compelling to users, whom BlackBerry continues to lose to iPhones and Android-running devices. After years of delays, in January BlackBerry introduced the BlackBerry 10 platform and two new smartphones, which it hopes will rejuvenate the brand, build loyalty amongst current users and woo back those who have left.

"Assuming the trial goes well, you could assume all kinds of different expansion [scenarios] whether it be additional banks, [additional] countries, additional devices and of course all kinds of functionality," said T.A. McCann, vice president of BlackBerry Messenger, according to Bloomberg.

In developing markets, mobile banking is an increasingly popular option, and the same goes for underdeveloped areas where many mobile phone users don't have bank accounts. According to the GSMA Mobile Money for the Unbanked program's second annual Global Mobile Money Adoption survey, more than 30 million mobile money users made 224.2 million transactions—moving more than $4.6 billion— during June 2012 alone.

That figure well exceeds the transactions performed by Paypal customers during each month of the third quarter of 2012, the survey points out.

The survey added that there are now 150 live mobile money services for "the unbanked," 41 of which were launch in 2012, and at least 40 markets around the globe have at least two mobile money options to choose from. Further, in Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania and Uganda, there are now more mobile money accounts than bank accounts.

"As the mobile money industry is maturing," said GSMA Managing Director Chris Locke, "we can expect to see both the social and financial benefits of mobile money increase and will continue to track this fantastic progress."