Facebook's Messenger app will soon let users send funds to one another, and the social network's use of payments to drive advertising and other business services is unlikely to stop there.
Facebook's Messenger business is headed by David Marcus, the former head of PayPal, who joined Facebook in mid-2014. At the time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his vision for the product goes beyond simply shoehorning a payment capability into the Messenger app.
"Messenger will have, over time, there will be some overlap between that and payments the payments piece will be a part of what will help drive the overall success and help people share with each other and interact with businesses," Zuckerberg said during an earnings call last summer. "I really can't underscore this enough: That we have a lot of work to do and we could take the cheap and easy approach and just try to put ads in or do payments and make some money in the short term, but we're not going to do that."
At the time, Zuckerberg also said his company wants to be an ally to the payments industry, not a threat.
"We still basically view ourselves as a partner to other companies in the payments space, rather than trying to compete directly for that," Zuckerberg said last year. "Our main business is advertising, and I think we're mostly, to the extent that we do payments, it's going to be supportive to that."
But the line between payments and social media is blurring. PayPal's Venmo is popular largely because its P2P service is part of a social feed; the Venmo app bears more resemblance to Twitter than to a banking app. Square's P2P service, Square Cash, is part of Snapchat; and Google lets its email users send funds as though they were sending email attachments.
In launching the new payment feature, Facebook emphasized its payments expertise and security chops.
"A dependable and trusted payments processor for game players and advertisers since 2007, Facebook processes more than one million transactions daily on the site and also handles all the payments processed on Messenger," Facebook said in a blog post.
The Messenger payment feature, unveiled March 17, uses PIN authentication and (on iOS) Apple's Touch ID to guard access to the Visa or MasterCard debit card linked to a user's account. It will roll out to U.S. users over the coming months.