WhatsApp has just pressed go on a big new feature: person-to-person payments. It’s just gone live in the past few hours, though only in one country right now: Brazil.
In a post on the WhatsApp blog, the company has announced that digital payments for people and small businesses have just started. This is far from the only update from the popular app – you can read more about recent improvements in Forbes contributor Zak Doffman’s excellent post here.
So, why is this development important?
Well, Brazil is only the first step, obviously, and although no promises have been made of the feature making its way north to the U.S. or to other countries, it’s highly likely it will
And it mirrors the way WhatsApp became so dominant in the first place: its multi-platform presence. Brilliant though the Messages app on iPhone is (and even though it’s probably about to see a big upgrade announced by Apple in the coming days), its best experience is across Apple devices. Features such as invisible ink text, animated balloons and more are only visible on iPhone and iPad, for instance
But WhatsApp? Well, that’s designed so it looks pretty much identical on every platform, so you don’t need to know which friends use an iPhone and which an Android handset before you send your message – everyone will be able to see it in the same way
So, the addition of payments is a big change. Apple’s own peer-to-peer payment system, Apple Pay Cash, is only available between Apple account
With Whatsapp’s digital payments, you’ll be able to make a purchase without leaving the WhatsApp chat. The company says that sending money to loved ones will be as easy as sending a message, pointing out that at the moment that will be especially important while people are separated from each other.
Initially, only certain debit and credit cards are supported, though the company says it has “built an open model to welcome more partners in the future”.
Security rests in the fact that you’ll need to use a six-digit pin or fingerprint (or other biometric authentication) to complete transactions.
The news is surprising because it had been assumed that WhatsApp would debut this feature in India as it has been testing payments there for some time.
The system is enabled by Facebook Pay, which is already live, in a small number of countries, including the U.S. and U.K. But its fully-featured arrival on WhatsApp will arguably make a bigger difference, especially when it arrives in more territories.
Visa also announced today that it is involved with Facebook to make the payments feature happen, using Visa Direct, the company’s push-payment technology and something called Visa Cloud Tokenization which is a security capability from Visa that removes sensitive payment information from transactions by converting data to tokens, which are then stored securely. Visa says this token framework technology removes risks around data protection and reduces unnecessary steps for the consumer