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5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

3:20 PM -- Shhhh... Don't say it too loud, but there is growing evidence that mobile banking services are about to hit the mainstream in Asia/Pacific.

Yes, I know we've heard it all before, but the times really could now be right.

Firstly, banking services are finding success across the region, and not just in Japan and Korea.

The most recent addition is in China, where the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has launched 3G mobile banking in conjunction with all three of the country's mobile operators: China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA), and China Unicom Ltd. (NYSE: CHU). This is an update to an existing 2G banking service, which has 20 million users, according to the bank. Check out this ChinaTechNews report for more.

Other examples include banking services in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Singapore, introduced by Mobile Money Ventures (MMV), a joint venture between Korean operator SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) and Citibank . Secondly, this time around it's the banks that are leading the charge, not the service providers.

According to Steve Kietz, CEO of MMV, that's what's making all the difference.

He says that it's only when banks sell the service that consumers take notice. To prove his point, he cites an example whereby Citibank introduced a mobile banking app as part of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s mobile wallet in 2008, but the effort got little traction. When Citibank introduced its own branded app with MMV, it got 20 times the total number of customers in just 30 days.

It's a U.S. example, but Kietz says the experiences are similar around the world. In fact, he says, the company's service in Hong Kong has already surpassed its target of 10 percent of Internet banking uses in six months.

Kietz also believes that what took the Internet 10 years to achieve with banking services will take mobile just three or four. In this I have to assume he's talking about starting from now and not 2001, which was when I first started writing about mobile banking.

The bigger question is this: If banks are the ones that will be successful in bringing mobile banking into the real world, where does that leave telcos?

Probably with another content area lost as a revenue source. Telcos have already lost the location battle to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), BlackBerry , and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), while messaging and search are dominated by the Internet big boys.

But hope is not gone for all financial services. Indeed, remittance services are growing strongly, and mobile payments have potential as well. Kietz says that if there's one thing the telcos could do for financial services, it would be to fast-track NFC (near field communication) technology so that mobile payments can take off, too.

— Catherine Haslam, Asia Editor, Light Reading

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