A group of banking companies in Mexico City launched an initiative last week that they say ultimately could enable consumers to use their mobile phones to make payments at the point of sale and to pay bills using standard text messaging services.

The service, involving 12 banks and two mobile carriers, is a wider rollout of a service that BBVA Bancomer has offered its customers for several years.

It allows BBVA account holders to top up their prepaid cell phones, which are widely used in Mexico City, according to Juan Arauz, the director of new payment media at the unit of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA of Madrid.

Tech-savvy young people are likely to be the early adopters, but the mobile payment service is also meant to draw the unbanked into the financial system, Mr. Arauz said.

He acknowledged that banking has historically been viewed as a service mainly used by the wealthy in Mexico, but he said that perspective is slowly starting to change. "It's very easy now to get an account in the bank," Mr. Arauz said.

The text-message service uses the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data capability of handsets that use the Global System for Mobile Communications standard, Mr. Arauz said.

Unlike Short Message Service, UDDS has no store-and-forward capability, which is commonly used in other text-messaging protocols.

That absence would improve security because old messages with financial details would not be archived on a phone, Mr. Arauz said. "It's safer than SMS."

It will take four to six months for the next step to get under way, which likely will be mobile payments in taxicabs, he said. As participation grows, later steps could include movie theaters and other categories of merchants.

"With the top-up functionality, we are going to register a lot of customers," Mr. Arauz said. "We need a big quantity of merchants and a big quantity of customers."

Eventually the service even could include bill payment, he said. "In Mexico, we don't have anything like that."

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