Facebook makes fintech move with UK launch of p2p payments via Messenger feature

Lynsey Barber
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Fintechs and banks beware? Facebook is moving into finance (Source: Getty)

Facebook is making its first foray into finance in the UK with the launch of a new feature which lets users send and receive payments via Messenger.

Cash can be transferred with just a message and users can even add emojis and gifs. Facebook's artificial intelligence powered virtual assistant for Messenger, called M, will also suggest the option of transferring money if the subject is discussed between friends during conversations.

“Our research shows the top reasons for sending money include celebrations, social, and festive occasions; it's those everyday moments we're trying to make a little easier - we've seen that in the US most people use payments in Messenger to send less than $50 at a time,” said head of Messenger David Marcus.

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The p2p payments feature was first introduced in the US in 2015. Facebook gained an e-money licence in Ireland in December last year sparking speculation that it was eyeing a move into payments beyond home turf.

However, the move is unlikely to unsettle UK fintechs or incumbents just yet.

"The fact that you have to click and from there set up your account and from there pay someone doesn't scream mass adoption to me," fintech expert and co-founder of consulting firm 11FS Simon Taylor told City A.M..

"Why Messenger and especially WhatsApp payments aren't amazing is beyond me. It could be so awesome but it's sort of an afterthought," he said, adding that in the US p2p messaging payments are still dominated by PayPal's Venmo.

It's unlikely to be a revenue driver either, and Marcus - a former president of PayPal - has previously gone on record to say that advertising and not payments is Facebook's focus.

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UK fintech Transferwise launched its own bot for Messenger earlier this year that lets users transfer money to friends or family. And Cleo, an AI-powered chatbot which raised cash from the founder of Skype, can manage many aspects of people's finances as well as sending cash to Facebook friends.

Meanwhile, the majority of banks already support relatively quick and easy money transfers via there own banking apps, even using just a phone number for some.

Apple's own foray into fintech with a similar feature that lets users transfer cash via iMessage was expected to launch with the iOS 11 update in September, however, Apple Pay Cash has been delayed.

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