UW School of Law to Host International Mobile Payments Conference

Tomorrow the University of Washington School of Law will host an international conference on how cellular phones can boost access to banking in developing countries and increase revenue for domestic mobile-phone operators. More than two-thirds of the world’s population has a cell phone, creating tremendous new opportunities for innovation in the way consumers buy and sell goods and services around the world.

The University of Washington School of Law conference, “Mobile Payments: Global Markets, Empowered Consumers and New Rules,” will also explore how to protect consumers and generate competition in the cutting-edge market for mobile payments. More than 100 participants are expected to join a dozen expert from the around the world at William H. Gates Hall in Seattle for the one-day mobile payments conference.

The event’s keynote speaker, Ignacio Mas, is the Deputy Director of Financial Services for the Poor program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. Mas is an internationally renowned expert on cell-phone banking and mobile payments. The conference chairs are Anita Ramasastry, D. Wayne & Anne Gittinger Professor of Law and Chris Jay Hoofnagle, Senior Fellow, Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, UC Berkeley Law.

During the conference, participants will tackle key issues emerging in cell phone banking and payments markets including:

  • What Will it Take to Make Mobile Payments Mainstream in North America?
  • A User Centric Model for Mobile Payments
  • Mobile Payments in Other Markets – Emerging Regulatory Frameworks

Distinguished panelists and moderators addressing these topics will include: Professor Adam Levitin, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C.;  Professor Benjamin Geva, Osgoode Hall Law School York University, Toronto; Carol Coye Benson, Founding Partner, Glenbrook Partners, Menlo Park; Thomas Brown, Partner, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, San Francisco; Professor Jane K. Winn, University of Washington Law School, Seattle; Professor Mark Budnitz, Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta; Gail Hillebrand, Financial Services Campaign Manager and a Senior Attorney, West Coast Office of Consumers Union, San Francisco; Chris Hoofnagle, Director, Information Privacy Programs, University of California Berkeley School of Law, Berkeley; Professor Bill Maurer, Director, Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion, University of California, Irvine; Maria Stephens, U.S. Agency for International Development, Washington, D.C.; Andrew Bennett, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce; and Professor Joel Ngugi, University of Washington Law School, Seattle.

Cell phone banking and mobile payments have tremendous potential to revolutionize markets in developing countries. In Kenya, for example, fewer than 4 million people have bank accounts, yet Safaricom’s M-PESA mobile banking service attracted one million users in the first 10 months of operation. By July 2008 there were 3.6 million M-PESA subscribers moving approximately 21 billion Kenyan shillings ($USD 288 million) through the Kenyan economy.

Kenya does not have comprehensive national payment system legislation to regulate branchless banking. The Central Bank of Kenya set very minimal requirements for fear that excessive early regulation would choke innovation. Under Kenyan law, M-PESA is not regulated as a bank because the money is “in transit.” In South Africa, by contrast, any business accepting deposits qualifies as a bank subject to banking regulations. Ignacio Mas has explored these issues in his research on branchless banking in developing countries.

The UW conference was made possible by cy pres funds in litigation led by Reed R. Kathrein, Managing Partner of the Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP Berkeley office. For more information on the international conference visit the University of Washington School of Law Web site.

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