BlackBerry trials mobile money transfer service over Messenger

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BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) is testing a new mobile money transfer application integrated into its signature Messenger chat service, a move the beleaguered device maker hopes will keep customers from defecting to rival over-the-top messaging services like fast-growing WhatsApp, Bloomberg reports.

The BBM Money app, developed in partnership with m-commerce services firm Monitise and available for download from the BlackBerry World storefront, enables consumers to create and access accounts from their BlackBerry smartphone and make real-time payments to BBM contacts who have also signed up for the service. Users can also transfer money to bank accounts.

BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion) is kicking off the pilot in Indonesia in partnership with PT Bank Permata, which will issue BBM Money mobile money accounts, process financial transactions and manage bank-grade security measures including a passcode, encryption and monitoring. BlackBerry users can create a BBM Money account and add cash at any of PT Bank Permata's 700,000 ATMs, and may begin making payments to BBM contacts and transferring money to other bank accounts after visiting a designated bank location for one-time identity check. BBM Money additionally lets Indonesian users purchase mobile airtime or prepaid SIM cards for their family and friends.

Bianto Surodjo, head of electronic channels at PT Bank Permata, told Bloomberg he believes BBM Money will boast "a few hundred thousand" users within 12 months. "If they want to do the payment, they just go into BBM Money and they transfer in a simple way as if they were chatting," he said. "We want to put financial activities into customers' habits because BlackBerry Messenger is becoming like the culture here for people to communicate."

Roughly three out of every four BlackBerry device owners use BlackBerry Messenger, corresponding to roughly 60 million users worldwide. BlackBerry Vice President of BBM and Social Communities T.A. McCann said the launch of BBM Money is the latest in a series of new Messenger features designed to boost the service's appeal. The new BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system, unveiled late last month, expands BBM to include Wi-Fi-enabled voice calling and video chat features; users may also share screens in real time with other BlackBerry 10 contacts, boosting collaborative possibilities.

"BBM was traditionally thought of as just a chat client," McCann said. "We're really trying to work hard to show clear examples of how we're expanding BBM well beyond just chat." He added that assuming the PT Bank Permata BBM Money trial is successful, "you could assume all kinds of different expansion whether it be additional banks, [additional] countries, additional devices and of course all kinds of functionality."

McCann acknowledged that BBM Money is unlikely to attract new users to the BlackBerry platform or win back consumers lost to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android. "Is somebody going to buy a BlackBerry in the United States because it potentially has got BBM Money? No," he said. "Would they buy it in Indonesia because of BBM Money? Maybe, but in that case we have lots of reasons why they want to have a BlackBerry, and BBM is one of them."

The BlackBerry OS powered 32.5 million smartphones shipped last year, corresponding to a market share of 4.5 percent--down from 10.3 percent in 2011--research firm IDC reports. Analysts expressed doubt that BBM Money will help turn around the platform's declining fortunes.

"Combining BlackBerry's customer franchise, Monitise's strong mobile money platform and PT Bank Permata's banking expertise looks like a winning partnership--but is it really? We think the jury is out," writes Ovum Customer Insights Analyst Angel Dobardziev. "There was little in the announcement on the agent network that will support the service other than the use of PT Bank Permata's ATM network. As unbanked users typically cash in and cash out a lot when they first sign up to a mobile money service, a number of players have found it difficult to gain traction if an agent is not close by to help users send or receive transactions."

For more:
- read this Bloomberg article
- read this release

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