Payments via Facebook's WhatsApp are on the very brink of launching, according to recent reports. As early as next week, pay via WhatsApp might be up and ready to go for the whole of India, potentially putting the service in the hands of up to 200 million consumers.
Their partners, though, may or may not be ready for this mass launch, according to Bloomberg. The app is set to partner with HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank to process the fund transfers. Reports also indicate that the State Bank of India is set to join in, though, as of yet, it does not have the necessary system in place to link with WhatsApp's payment system. The goal had been a full rollout with all four partners online, but due to the hold-up at the State Bank of India, the social media giant decided to push ahead with the three rival banks that were ready to go for launch.
Mobile payments are shaping up to be a large, and very competitive, market in India. With the great demonetization a year and a half ago, consumers have been flooding toward mobile and digital payments providers. It is widely suspected that India — much like China — will see a payments shift where consumers essentially leapfrog cards and move directly to mobile.
India, as of today, has about 25 million credit card holders. The opportunity for mobile payments is estimated to be the hundreds of millions, and homegrown players like Paytm are squaring off with international players PayPal and Alipay for market share. And Facebook wants in on the action, apparently as soon as possible.
Ideally, WhatsApp would like to have the sort of effect on payments in India that WeChat had in China — when it pushed past messaging into the worlds of payments and commerce. The pilot of the WhatsApp Pay platform launched with about a million uses in February of this year and was wildly popular with users, according to reports. Segment watchers and experts believe the platform poses a major threat to many of the incoming entrants to the market — as WhatsApp Pay's social media use case is already well ingrained among India users.
“WhatsApp has a great starting point: a monopoly in chat,” said Vivek Belgavi, leader for financial technology at PwC India. “High engagement makes it a credible competition.”
As of today, there are 200 million Indian using the WhatsApp messaging functions - a market penetration roughly 60 percent of the size of the entire U.S. population.
As of today, all parties — Facebook, WhatsApp, State Bank of India, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank — have offered no further comment on whether or not the nationwide rollout of WhatsApp Pay is really on deck for next week, and if it will really go to market with only three of the four banking partners.
Updates on this story will be posted as it unfolds.