After moving beyond calls and SMSes to web browsers, radio and music players, mobile phones have got yet another avataar -- they can also keep your accounts and settle them as well.
Although the mobile accounting and payment market is in a nascent stage as of now, its huge growth potential could be gauged from the number of companies betting on it -- which include PayPal Mobile of online auction giant eBay, MasterCard, US-based telecom major Cingular and BillMonk, a startup founded by NRI Gaurav Oberoi in the US.
When Oberoi started BillMonk in partnership with Chuck Groom, his colleague at their previous employer Amazon.com, the idea came to
help in accounting for the debt owed between friends on shared vacations, which they called as "social money."
Chuck Groom said that BillMonk is an accounting application that helps friends track how much they owe one another through cellphone and its website BillMonk.com.
"A typical scenario is that friends go out for an evening of fun, accumulate a series of shared expenses and use BillMonk to both figure out how much is owed and to later do the settlement," Groom said.
The industry experts expect the cell phone to soon become the king of cashless transaction and India could be a major hub for this market on the back of the fast adoption of mobile phones and growing appetite of the much hackneyed middle class for new technology inventions.
He said more than 4 per cent of all its transactions are already in the Indian rupee and the rapid adoption of mobile phones and expansion of middle class makes the mobile money articulately exciting in India.
Groom said that Gaurav Oberoi, his business partner and an Indian citizen, has been a strong proponent of making BillMonk India-ready from the day one.
BillMonk has achieved over 10,000 users in just six months and is growing at a rate of upto 15 per cent per month. The company is providing the accounting service free to its registered users, but plans to charge for a premium service that would include the ability to make payments to settle the social money debts through mobiles.
"Given that this market is very young and the uncertain role that cell phone carriers will play as gatekeepers, it is just too soon to make firm projections about the uptake of the mobile money market. However, everyone agrees that the new market could have great potential, of size comparable to today's credit card institutions," Groom said.
According to the Fortune and CNN-Time Warner group magazine Business 2.0, the social money market is estimated to be worth more than 100 billion dollars currently. Groom said that this number probably reflects the volume of informal transactions between friends in the US alone and the worldwide market size could be much higher.
Mobile payment can broadly be classified into three segments -- mobile being used for buying some merchandise, cash transactions through cell phones and when a person pays for a group and wants to get paid later for paying big restaurant bills or buying movie tickets. It is the third segment that companies like BillMonk are targeting to cash upon.