The GSM Association and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have announced a programme to offer financial services to millions of people in the developing world through mobile phones.

The "Mobile Money for the Unbanked" (MMU) programme has been given a $12.5 million grant from the Gates Foundation.

The plan is to work with mobile operators, banks, microfinance institutions, government and development organisations to encourage the expansion of reliable, affordable mobile financial services to the unbanked.

"There are over 1 billion people in emerging markets today who don't have a bank account but do have a mobile phone", said Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA.

The MMU programme will support around 20 projects in developing countries, focusing on Africa, Asia and Latin America, with the goal of reaching 20 million previously unbanked people with mobile financial services by 2012.