Texting money could replace wire transfers

January 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Many of us are already able to pay for things with a phone instead of cash, but the next step is to text money from one phone to another. Richard Hart reports on the Drive to Discover a better way to transfer cash.

Say you have some money you'd like to send to a friend or relative far away -- maybe in another country. You could go to one of those money wiring services, but that could cost you $20-50 -- each time. You would send a check, but you don't have a bank account. However, you do have a phone. What if you could simply text the money phone to phone? That's the idea behind a service called Boom.

Maria Loza uses Boom to put her cash into her phone.

"You can go to any 7-Eleven," she tells us. "They just ask for your load card. And you give them the money, and they give you a receipt. Then, you send a text message to Boom, it automatically puts the money into your account."

And, indeed her phone says out loud, "Transfer completed. Good-bye!" Boom speaks Spanish, too. People like Maria pay $2 per transfer or subscribe annually for less.

Even though it includes a card, and you can make purchases with Boom technology, this is not the same as mobile payment, because you don't need a smartphone to do it. And it doesn't cost the recipient the first year. This is mobile money transfer.

Bill Barhydt will tell you that his company, M-Via in Palo Alto, is not just about a cashless world, it's about changing the world -- starting with those he calls the "unbanked".

"When you think about all the issues around carrying cash -- the safety issues, the wire transfers -- check cashing fees are very high. I believe that this is kind of the tide that raises all ships. So if you give people real access to commerce, make them part of the banking system give them really simple tools via the phone they're already carrying, really good things will happen."

What about bad things? Like money laundering? Baryhydt notes that his business is regulated by the same agencies that regulate banks, from Homeland Security identification to FDIC insurance.

"The best thing is my grandmother -- she's in Mexico -- the text messages are both in Spanish and in English for U.S. customers like myself," says Loza.

Beginning with tens of thousands of retailers and ATMs -- in the US, Mexico and Haiti -- M-Via is building a social network, for those who want to share currency.