Facebook building instant money transfers into mobile app

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Apple, Samsung, Google, Mastercard, Visa, M-PESA, FNB, Standard Bank… is there a company left who isn’t building an app for making payments with your mobile phone easy? The fight to control the future of cash (or cashless payments, at least) is on, and guess who just joined in the fray?

Facebook has revealed that it’s venturing into the mobile money industry with the confirmation of a mobile money transfer feature that users can access via the Messenger app

Rumours of this feature first started back in October last year after a computer science student from Stanford University picked it up in the Facebook Messenger code.

The feature is free to use and can be accessed by tapping a $ icon within a conversation and then tapping on “Pay” at the top right corner when sending money. The person receiving the money will then have to open the chat and tap on “Add Card” to add their debit card details to have it sent into their account.

According to Facebook, the money transfer is immediate but it could take a few days for the receiver to access it if they and the sender don’t use the same bank, similar to how it works with ordinary bank deposits.

Facebook isn’t new to handling payments from users, of course. It’s processed transactions for in-game purchasers and sold instant advertising since 2007, and in the course of that the firm says it’s processed more than one million transactions daily, Facebook assured users that the mobile money feature is secure.

“Incorporating security best practices into our payments business has always been a top priority. We use secure systems that encrypt the connection between you and Facebook as well as your card information when you ask us to store it for you,” the company said.

“We use layers of software and hardware protection that meet the highest industry standards. These payment systems are kept in a secured environment that is separate from other parts of the Facebook network and that receive additional monitoring and control. A team of anti-fraud specialists monitor for suspicious purchase activity to help keep accounts safe.”

Users will be able to create a PIN that will bar unauthorised use of the service, iPhone users will be able to take advantage of their phone’s Touch ID as an extra precautionary method, while Android and desktop users have the option of adding another layer of authentication.

Facebook Messenger’s mobile money feature will be made available to US users with a Visa or MasterCard debit card in the next coming months, while there’s no word yet on whether or not it will spread out into the rest of the world.

It would be interesting however to see how the feature would do in Africa where services like M-PESA that don’t require a smartphone and can be easily accessed via USSD is so popular in a continent where the majority of users are still very much dependent on feature phones.