MasterCard Inc. has introduced in India a virtual prepaid card that can be used with mobile phones.

Robert Walls, MasterCard's senior business leader for debit, prepaid and MoneySend product management in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa region, said the Purchase, N.Y., company is taking advantage of an Indian regulatory change in August, allowing banks to offer card products outside branches.

The virtual cards are available now through retail agents in India. MasterCard is offering them in conjunction with Central Bank of India, one of the country's largest public-sector financial companies, and Rev Worldwide, a payments startup in Austin, Tex., backed by the venture capital firm Mpower Labs Inc. of Austin.

The rollout coincides with India's Diwali festival season, which runs from September to November, Walls said in an interview last week. "Gift-giving is hugely popular as part of that festival," he said.

Simon Hilton, the chief executive of Rev Asia Pacific, said the Rev MasterCard Virtual Card is a prepaid MasterCard number that can be used online, on a mobile handset, over the phone or by mail. Cardholders need not have a bank account or credit card.

The companies have allied themselves with an agent network that already offers top-ups for prepaid mobile phones at 27,000 sites in India, Hilton said.

"They can go to the same people they trust to buy their mobile minutes from," he said.

Users load funds into the virtual card account and are given a receipt with a voucher number and reference number, which can be accessed through a mobile phone to obtain a 16-digit MasterCard number. The account number can be used to make purchases using the preloaded funds, Hilton said.

Walls said the virtual accounts offer users a broad range of buying options that are not available to people who use only cash. "There are virtually limitless payment applications," he said.

The companies are also offering a gift card that uses a standard plastic card; neither is reloadable.

Virtual prepaid cards are used now as meal cards in India, as disbursement systems for small loans and for social-benefits disbursements, Walls said.

In India, 20% of adults have a payment card of some kind, and the rest rely almost exclusively on cash. More than half the population is unbanked, Hilton said.