In March, internet behemoth Facebook announced its arrival in the P2P payments space. Initially available only in the US, the new funds transfer service is provided via its Messenger app.

The feature is not competition for digital wallet services such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet. It only allows Facebook friends to send money to each other.

To make a Messenger transaction, both users involved need to have a MasterCard or Visa debit card linked to their Facebook accounts. Once that is set up, it's really easy to use.

Start a message to a friend. Tap the $ icon and enter the amount you want to send, and you're done.

The underlying funds transfer is processed by the banks, and still takes the usual few days to clear.

The online P2P payments business is already highly competitive, but Facebook's offering stands out as attractive.

There's no need for the sender to enter the recipient’s contact and bank details. No need for registration and verification procedures to set up a third-party account (as with PayPal or its mobile app Venmo), and no need to ‘cash out’ funds from there to a daily transaction account.

The uptake of mobile payment systems such as digital wallet services has created concerns with security.

Facebook has gone out of its way to address these fears, promising the latest and best software and hardware security, and assuring users that "a team of anti-fraud specialists monitor for suspicious purchase activity to help keep accounts safe".

Given Facebook’s sheer size, this development is sure to disrupt the industry. The company generates sales of over $US1 billion a month and has more than 1.4 billion active monthly users, 65% of whom use it daily.

With over 600 million active users, Messenger as a payments platform has the potential to make quite an impact.


Over two thirds of Facebook’s revenue come from advertising, and the company demurs when asked if the new P2P service is part of a wider push into business transactions.

“We are not building a payments business,'' said Facebook product manager Steve Davis. "Payments in Messenger is focused on providing utility.''

But some analysts suspect a broader strategy may be behind the move, and point to China’s massively popular WeChat, which provides in-store and online purchases, as an example of where Facebook Messenger could go.

Last year, Facebook hired David Marcus, former president of PayPal, to head up its Messenger unit. And it has been experimenting with e-commerce payments via the use of a "Buy" button in News Feed.

Businesses on Messenger, unveiled at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in March, already links businesses with consumers, who can start conversations and receive information like order confirmations and shipping status updates.

Last year, Facebook shut down its Gifts service, which allowed users to order presents over the network, due to poor performance, but announced the Gifts team would stay on to work on other commerce-related projects.

For tech observers like Dr Alex Hum, a solutions architect with Royal Dutch Shell/Wipro Technologies, there’s no reason to expect Facebook’s latest foray into online payments to end here.

"Users can't buy things from businesses directly on the Messenger app yet,’’ he said. “The future, however, could certainly evolve to enable users to do just that.’’
 

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