South East Asia

Paytm Adds Chat, Directly Takes On WhatsApp

In India, WhatsApp sends messages and Paytm sends money.

Or at least, that was the old order of things.

But as of today, Paytm users will have the option of accessing newly added chat features — including photo and video sharing — within their Paytm digital wallets.

The move comes as WhatsApp — the Facebook-owned global messaging app currently used by two-thirds of India’s 300 million strong smartphone carrying population — has been woking toward rolling out its own P2P payment service for its customers. That services is still a few months away from rollout — Paytm’s move is something of a preemptive strike.

Deepak Abbot, Paytm’s senior vice president of product, said his company had decided to add the communications feature because it provides necessary and long-requested functionality for users who often need to be able to send informational messages along with their funds.

“If I sent money to you, I’d wonder, ‘Hey, have you received the money?’” Mr. Abbot said in an interview. “Either I’d call you, or find another messaging app.”

Paytm was first founded to solve a simple problem — paying a mobile phone bill — but has seen explosive growth since India rapidly demonetized a year ago. With cash notes increasingly a thing of the past, consumers have been looking for newer, digital methods — and Paytm found itself in the all-time rightest place, at the right time.

Powered recently by $2 billion in financing from Alibaba, China’s leading eCommerce company, and SoftBank, the Japanese investment giant, Paytem approached consumers as a simple, accessible and mobile way to pay at a variety of places and widely expanded its product and service offerings. These days gold by the gram, airline tickets and all sorts of personal entertainment options can be paid for quickly and securely via Paytm.

WhatsApp, which has over 200 million monthly active users in India and 1.3 billion worldwide, has been considering a P2P payments play. Neeraj Arora, head of business at WhatsApp, said in an October interview that his team was studying opportunities that have arisen since demonetization.

“They are trying to digitize every part of society,” said Mr. Arora, who also sits on the board of Paytm. “We play right in the middle of it. It’s natural for us to think about improving the experience.”

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