* Launch targets 7 mln in Romania who mainly use cash* M-Pesa has 16.8 mln active customers in emerging markets* Mobile payments expected to grow rapidly in coming yearsBy Kate HoltonLONDON, March 31 Vodafone brought the mobile money service that has revolutionised banking in Africa to Romania on Monday, offering M-Pesa text-message transactions to millions of customers in its first push into Europe. Vodafone said it had chosen Romania to target the seven million people there who still mainly use cash rather than cards, and others with bank accounts who could still benefit from transferring money by text. Customers can use M-Pesa to pay for goods, pay bills, make deposits and withdraw cash from authorised agents. Users will be able to transfer as little as one new Romanian leu or up to 30,000 lei ($9,200) per day."The majority of people in Romania have at least one mobile device, but more than one third of the population do not have access to conventional banking," said Vodafone's director of mobile money, Michael Josep.
Services such as M-Pesa have helped Vodafone, the world's second largest mobile operator by customer numbers, to support revenues and grow customer loyalty at a time of falling prices for basic telecoms services such as calls. The British group launched M-Pesa in Kenya in 2007 through its Safaricom operations. Since then the service has spread rapidly and in the last 12 months it has rolled the service out to its operations in Egypt, India, Lesotho and Mozambique. About 16.8 million customers were actively using the service by the end of last year, making more than $1.2 billion worth of transactions per month. Vodafone had 8.3 million customers in Romania at the end of last year.
PIECE OF PIE "Vodafone believes that mobile money could reach around 10 percent of service revenues across its emerging markets businesses over time," analysts at Espirito Santo said, of the company's ongoing revenue stream that strips out one-off costs."The move in to Eastern Europe therefore is encouraging, though we do not expect any meaningful contribution from Western Europe at this time."
While slow to take off in all parts of the world, global mobile payments are predicted to grow rapidly over the next few years, with telecoms groups, retailers and banks all trying to secure a piece of the pie. While the focus in emerging markets has been on text-based transactions, the focus in mature markets is on developing contactless payment systems to allow consumers to pay for goods by swiping their phones on a terminal in a store. The use of smartphones has already enabled consumers in mature markets to transfer money and check their balance via banking software on their handsets. In Europe Vodafone is likely to focus its mobile money service on east or central Europe. It also has operations in Hungary and Czech Republic and a presence through partnerships with other operators in Latvia, Poland and Austria. In Romania, Vodafone customers will be able to transfer money via the text messaging technology once they have activated the service at a Vodafone retail store, participating retail outlets or through authorised agents.($1 = 3.2448 Romanian lei);($1 = 0.7271 euros)
Danielle Faust, 33, is six weeks into wearing braces to fix her crooked teeth and is pretty happy about the process, but not the price. While the $5,000 for Invisalign clear aligners in South Florida where she is a freelance writer is $1,000 less than a friend is paying in New York, she is kicking herself because she missed out on a Groupon that would have saved her even more. Parents often blanch at the price tag of braces for their children but count it as a known cost of raising offspring. When it comes to their own teeth, however, adults are a lot more cautious about the money involved. Using braces to fix dental problems such as crooked teeth or bite problems can cost between $3,000 and $7,000, depending on the treatment options and where you live. The number of American adults over 18 sporting some form of a "brace face" is roughly 1.2 million, or 20 percent of the 5.9 million patients orthodontia patients nationwide, according to the American Association of Orthodontists. That is up from 875,000 adult patients in 1989."Adults are very careful. They are making the investment, and they want to make sure they are getting their money's worth," says Dr. Morris Poole, president of the AAO and a practicing orthodontist in Logan, Utah. SHOP AROUND Most orthodontists charge a flat fee based on the duration and complexity of the case. Retainers and some follow-up care are usually included, says Poole. As costs vary greatly, it pays to shop around. "Most will do a no-charge consultation," says Dr. David Bonebreak, who participates in two orthodontic practices near Howard County, Maryland. If you like an expensive doctor more than others with cheaper plans, he suggests asking for price matching.
Katrina Morrison, a 38-year-old mom of three from Atlanta who works as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, went to three different orthodontists for consultations and ended up going with the mid-priced one. The more expensive option required a massive down payment of $1,000. The cheaper option was a discount chain that charged $99 a month, but did not offer a dedicated doctor with each visit."I really wanted that personalized service," Morrison says.
ASK FOR DISCOUNTS One way that Morrison saved money was by working all the breaks - the most significant being a family discount since she used the same orthodontist as her children. She also was able to pay upfront some of the $4,500 total cost and work out a payment plan over 20 months for the rest. INSURANCE VARIES
Morrison's dental insurance covered 50 percent of her costs, but Faust's insurance would not cover any of her Invisalign because it was considered cosmetic. If she had gone for traditional braces, it would have covered $2,000, but that would have been a lifetime benefit. Slightly less than half of the patients Poole sees have any sort of dental coverage at all, he says. Rachel Teodoro, a 36-year-old mom and blogger from Seattle, Washington, was able to get some discounts by paying the $6,500 charge upfront and in cash, which she was able to do because her family had socked away money in their Health Savings Account."It makes sense to fund it, because it's not taxed - and it's a smart financial move," Teodoro says. WEAR YOUR RETAINER The biggest cost-saver for braces: Wear your retainer. The best way to avoid future costs is to stick with the maintenance program."I would never let my teeth go again," Morrison says. She just got her braces off in early July and is now facing a long run of wearing top and bottom retainers - replacements cost $250 a pop. "I'm always on the go, I've told myself I've got to hold onto these things," she says.