Can Facebook Messenger Copy the Payments Success of WeChat?

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Messaging apps are huge in payments — or rather, they may be someday.

Facebook Messenger has confirmed that it is pursuing peer-to-peer payments and e-commerce, a path blazed by China’s WeChat, which has 650 million users and features multiple payment functions. That despite the fact that trust in mobile P2P money transfer is still low among U.S. consumers, as compared to in China.

Messenger has 800 million users, while Facebook-owned WhatsApp leads all messaging apps with 900 million users.

WeChat’s success is well known. Chinese users send each other money, shop, and even book doctors’ appointments with the app. Messaging apps in U.S. generally have less functionality and are not used with anywhere near the frequency they are in Asia, in large part because texting in the U.S. is inexpensive. Text message plans cost approximately 26 times more in China than the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal.

Messenger rolled out P2P payments last June. Messenger features a great deal of functionality, but has not yet gained popularity as a place to spend money. Facebook is renewing its efforts to make Messenger a payments channel, David Marcus, vice president of Messenger, recently told The Wall Street Journal. There is also speculation Apple is adding payment functionality to iMessage, its proprietary messaging platform with 400 million users.

Messenger is now looking to add features for businesses, meaning that users can communicate  — and transact — with businesses rather than just friends using the app. Commerce platforms such as Everlane and Zulily have added Messenger-based customer service, for example. and Hyatt added the ability for guests to request hotel services via the app. Messenger has about 70 added services accessible to users.

Everyone wants to be in messaging.

“There is no other technology that is more closely examined and discussed in Silicon Valley than messaging,” Jenny Lee, managing partner at GGV Capital, told the WSJ.

Talie Baker, a payments analyst with Aite Group, told Bank Innovation, “Messaging platforms are the next big thing” in payments. Further, P2P payments will soon be near-ubiquitous within messaging apps, Baker predicts.

But will American consumers get on board? More than 40% of millennials made a mobile P2P payment in 2014, according to a November 2015 Aite report. The 2015 numbers were certainly higher. But the numbers for Baby Boomers are not encouraging — just 12% made a P2P payment in 2014. And that may have just been their millennial kids pestering them for money.

Well, maybe everyone doesn’t want to be in messaging after all.

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