Ecuador’s Central Bank began opening customer accounts on Christmas Eve for its new electronic money transaction system. The bank said that that the system will begin offering banking services, via cell phone, in mid-February and will begin accepting payment for government services, fees and taxes beginning in August.
All citizens and legal residents over the age of 18 can open an account by dialing *153# on any cell phone and following the instructions.
Mateo Villalba, Central Bank director, said he expects the new system to handle about half a million transactions through 15,000 accounts in 2015. He said he also expected about 50 businesses, including supermarkets, department stores and large taxi cooperatives, to join the system.
The electronic money system was announced earlier this year as a means to give Ecuadorians without bank accounts access to a digital banking. “We estimate that 40% of the population does not have accounts and our aim is to make bill-paying easier for them,” Villalba said.
The system will work entirely through cell phones, without the need for the Internet. “Electronic money is an instrument of the digital age and facilitates transactions between account holders and participating businesses. We want to make it available to everyone,” said Villalba.
He added that the system is not an alternative to the U.S. dollar, as some critics of the system have contented. “Every transaction we handle will be backed by dollars,” he said.