The new partnership signed between MTN and Ecobank aims to improve access to financial services in Africa.

The service will not only allow customers in more than 11 countries where the bank has operations to transfer and receive money between their MTN mobile money and Ecobank accounts, but to also withdraw money from Ecobank's ATMs (automated teller machines).

Patrick Akinwuntan, Ecobank's group chief executive director for domestic banking said, "the collaboration will give the bank multiple channels of providing quality services to our customers and shows our commitment to make branchless banking a reality."

Africa is experiencing an explosion of mobile money services as mobile phone service providers and banks compete for customers who otherwise would not have a bank account. As a result, a number of big banks in the region including Ecobank are partnering with mobile phone service providers to provide mobile money services to their customers.

Just like mobile phone operators, banks in the region are encouraged by the growing mobile customer base to launch innovative payment options to reach millions of the so-called unbanked. For example in Nigeria and Kenya, Africa's biggest telecom markets, mobile operators have introduced mobile money services that allow people to save money, get bank loans and even earn interest using mobile phones.

Safaricom's M-pesa in Kenya, which has over 15 million users in Kenya alone, is a mobile phone money transfer and macro-financing service. Safaricom also offers the M-Shwari service, which allows people using mobile phones to get loans from the bank.

Last month, Tigo, a subsidiary of millicom, with operations in seven African countries, announced the launch of a cross-border mobile money remittance service between Rwanda and Tanzania.

Central banks in Africa, including those in Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, have allowed mobile phone service providers and banks to implement mobile money services in partnership with mobile operators. Several African government now believe that mobile phone operators could help bring financial services to over 60 percent of the region's population, most of whom are poor.

The services are expected, among other things, to alleviate the problems associated with lack of brick-and-mortar banks in rural areas and the cumbersome traditional process of applying for a loan.

Although many Africans do not have bank accounts, the majority in rural and urban areas do own mobile phones. This is what has compelled most African governments to move to ensure that mobile money services and products are offered through mobile phones in partnership with commercial banks.

Edith Mwale, a telecom analyst at Africa Center for ICT Development said that, "African banks are beginning to innovate and partnering with telecom operators for them to remain relevant otherwise they were almost becoming irrelevant and a preserve of only the rich."