Here in the U.S., getting a bunch of mobile carriers together to agree on anything is a bit like herding cats. North of the border, however, Canada’s three carriers — Bell Canada, Rogers and TELUS — have joined forces to create Zoompass, a top-to-bottom, designed-for-mobile, money transfer and payments service that launched today.
The three each hold not only a one-third stake in Zoompass, but a one-third share (PDF) of the Canadian cell market. Given the ubiquity of cell phones in Canada, the carriers are hoping their customers will begin using Zoompass for everyday financial transactions, not just bill-paying but things like giving kids their allowance or collecting money from co-workers to buy the boss a birthday gift. Since for any payments system, critical mass is necessary for truly widespread adoption, Zoompass is ideally positioned for success — and could subsequently look to move into other markets, perhaps even the United States.
“It’s the beginning of something that’s going to revolutionize our industry,” said Nadir Mohamed, CEO of Rogers Communications, one of the partners in Zoompass, in a keynote delivered to the Canadian Telecom Summit today.
Zoompass is available on most major phones as a native application, and its mobile web site can be easily accessed by any phone with a WAP browser. iPhone (s aapl) and Blackberry (s rimm) Storm apps are due out soon as well. The service also offers a debit Mastercard (s ma) with a tap-and-go PayPass RFID card installed, and phones equipped with the tech are on the way; it can also be used to take cash out of an ATM. The company is partnered with a chartered bank, with all cash in Zoompass accounts held safely in escrow. Fees are modest, only 50 Canadian cents to send cash or withdraw money to a bank account, with no limit on how much can be transferred. Receiving money or paying for merchandise with the debit Mastercard is free.
Getting AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile to agree on anything of this magnitude (especially when money is involved) would be a much taller order, given the relative size of the U.S. market. But other countries, particularly South Korea and Japan, have already adopted money transfer via cell phone technologies, much to the envy of traveling gadget geeks. And if Zoompass is a hit north of the border — and it certainly seems to have that potential — it could easily make its way down here. The U.S. carriers may want to start talking now.