Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.
Technology: Mobile payments and mobile banking for the underbanked.
Why it's one to watch: This huge and fast-growing market is in dire need of convenient and affordable options. m-Via has lined up a strong set of merchant partners that includes MasterCard and 7-Eleven and its model, which makes transactions free to users, should be appealing to this population.
Looking around and seeing no affordable nor safe choices for U.S. immigrants who want to send money back home, Bill Barhydt, CEO of m-Via, spent the past three and a half years building a mobile payment network in the U.S. and Mexico that encompasses ATMs, convenience stores and supermarkets. m-Via's mission is to bring payment and banking services to the underbanked, especially immigrants sending money home. The company recently rolled out a mobile money service called Boom for this community. Boom is a bank account at partner CBW Bank that uses the customer's phone number as the bank account identifier and lets people store and access funds via text message, as well as send money to other Boom accounts.
To enable customers to fund these accounts, m-Via has built a "load network" at 15,000 U.S. locations, including convenience stores like 7-Eleven, bill payment network PayXchange, and supermarket chains.
Users can access cash in their Boom account at ATMs that accept MasterCard debit; there are 150,000 of these in the U.S. and Mexico and another 650,000 in other countries. For people in extremely rural locations, m-Via has built an agent network: village stores at which customers can purchase products and get cash back by sending a text message to the store's phone number. "The net effect of all this is a massive network that for first time can bank all these cash service consumers in a way that's useful," Barhydt says.
To make a payment, customers send a text message to the phone number of the recipient. m-Via's software will call the customer back and have them type in a personal identification number before sending the money. Payments can be of any size from $5 to $1,000.
"Our goal is to kill the Western Union MoneyGram cash services model," says Bill Barhydt, CEO. Where services like MoneyGram charge $15 or more per transaction, m-Via charges the customer only $25 a year but also charges merchant fees.
The overall market here is large. In 2010, $325 billion was sent from developed to developing countries through these sorts of money transfer services and this number is expected to grow 7.5% by 2013.