Denarii Payments Inc. of Atlanta has developed a mobile phone-linked prepaid product called SizzleMoney that is initially targeting Hispanic immigrants.
People can use the product to send one another money by text message, access funds in their SizzleMoney accounts with a prepaid debit card and make purchases at the point of sale with their phones.
"It's basically mobile cash," said Donald Baggett, Denarii's founder and chief executive officer.
Denarii said SizzleMoney will appeal to immigrants, who often use their mobile phones as their primary method of communication.
The SizzleMoney account features debit cards bearing the logos of the Maestro, Pulse, Star and Cirrus debit networks. The cards can be used to make PIN debit purchases and to make withdrawals at automated teller machines. Customers can upgrade to MasterCard Inc.-branded debit cards.
Central National Bank of Enid, Okla., issues the cards and its Interactive Transaction Services subsidiary processes the transactions.
The cards are available through participating merchants or "iSizzle" representatives, typically college-age children of first-generation Hispanic immigrants, Baggett said.
He said these representatives are an important part of his marketing strategy because they can help persuade unbanked consumers to begin using electronic payments. "They help to break down the cultural and technological barriers that exist with first-generation immigrants opening bank accounts."
Funds can be added to SizzleMoney accounts through direct payroll deposit, an iSizzle representative, participating merchants or Green Dot Corp.'s reload network.
Baggett said the main incentive for immigrants to use the service is to keep their cash safe. "There is a lot of crime in these communities and criminals know the cash is hidden in a sock drawer or under the bed," he said.
Denarii initially approached merchants in northern Atlanta's Hispanic neighborhood, especially stores with high foot traffic, such as grocery stores, meat markets, laundries, hair salons and independent tax preparers, Baggett said. "In the sales pitch, we say SizzleMoney is something the big-box retailers don't have and it will help bring in more customers," he said.
Denarii plans to target other niche markets, such as college campuses, once SizzleMoney is more established, Baggett said.
Some merchants can accept text-message payments through their SizzleMoney accounts. Customers initiate the transaction with their phone, and the merchant receives a confirmation on their SizzleMoney-registered mobile phone.
Brud Baker, Central National Bank's president and CEO, said the fees for using SizzleMoney accounts are competitive with those of other transfer services. Central National Bank charges users 49 cents to transfer money domestically and $6 to send funds abroad. It also charges 49 cents for mobile purchases, $1.49 for a domestic ATM withdrawal and $2.49 for an international ATM withdrawal.
"There is a huge economic incentive," Baker said.
George Peabody, the director of the emerging technologies advisory service at Mercator Advisory Group in Maynard, Mass., said many immigrants are comfortable using mobile phones and text messaging for a variety of services, so mobile banking is not a huge leap for them.
"Text messaging was bigger in other global markets before it was in the U.S.," Peabody said.
Baker said Denarii's product could bring immigrants "into the financial services business that allows them not only begin to build an understanding of how it works, but over time, move into a standard banking account."