The mobile money transfer market will create an almost $8bn revenue opportunity for mobile operators by 2012, from just over $10m in 2006, according to research released this week.

Industry analyst ABI Research said Monday that transferring funds safely and securely using mobile phones has the potential to revolutionise the way people use their money, and it also holds the promise of driving great social benefits in the developing world.

But ABI also notes that mobile operators have a significant opportunity to draw further revenue in the short term from existing network investments.

Jonathan Collins, principal analyst with ABI, said that several carriers lead the way with national and international services, most notably in the Philippines, but the largely third party offerings in the US remain small and niche. This summer, however, the market began to change when Obopay snared separate partnerships with financial-services giant Citibank as well as US operator Verizon Wireless. In addition, web companies PayPal, Amazon, and Google have focused attention on offering mobile payments.

“Early US and European mobile fund transfer services have focused on limited demographics -primarily students and their family benefactors – but there remains enormous potential for developing a user base through key partnerships, combining mobile operators and financial services companies,” said Collins.

The ability to transfer funds between accounts, customers, and retailers represents a significant prospective market but end users are understandably cautious about who they trust to handle their money, so established banks and mobile operators will help to provide much of the security that new users look for in mobile transfers. “This places mobile operators who are willing to deliver money transfer applications at the forefront of a lucrative range of applications,” Collins said.

“Mobile fund transfers provide a primary driver to establish partnerships between operators and financial services companies that can prove the bedrock for other applications, which require additional investment, such as contactless payments from handsets using NFC,” he said.