WhatsApp may be about to introduce peer-to-peer payments in India, its largest market with over 200 million users.
A report from The Ken, an India-based subscription media company that we recently profiled, claims that WhatsApp plans to use UPI, a cross-bank payment system backed by the government, to begin enable payments between users within the next six months.
“India is an important country for WhatsApp, and we’re understanding how we can contribute more to the vision of Digital India. We’re exploring how we might work with companies that share this vision and continuing to listen closely to feedback from our users,” WhatsApp told TechCrunch in a statement.
That’s not a denial — nor, admittedly, a direct admission — but the new feature would make a lot of sense for the Facebook-owned company, which claims over one billion active users worldwide.
On a visit to India in February, which included a meeting with the country’s IT Minister, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton admitted that the company was “in the early stages” of looking into how it can incorporate payment services.
Others have already taken that jump. Sweden-based Truecaller, which counts India as its largest market, introduced user-to-user payments last week through a tie-in with ICICI Bank that also utilizes UPI. It is hoping that the new functionality will help it compete for engagement with WhatsApp and other messaging apps like Hike, which raised money from Tencent at a billion-dollar valuation.
Facebook added payments to its Messenger app some time ago in the U.S., but such a feature inside WhatsApp could be far more transformative in India, where Messenger is less popular. Credit card penetration is far lower in India, while WhatsApp has already emerged as a platform for facilitating e-commerce despite currently offering no features that expressly support that.
That’s also an area of interest, though. WhatsApp said last year it would explore the potential to give “businesses that matter” to its users a presence on its platform. That feature was originally scheduled to ship before the end of 2016, but it is yet to go live, although WhatsApp is reportedly testing business search features with a handful of selected companies.