Facebook is finally launching its own digital payments system which will eventually be available across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The project – separate from the company’s Libra cryptocurrency, which has run into significant challenges from financial regulators and been abandoned by major partners – marks the culmination of years of work.
Speaking at the company’s developer conference earlier this year, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said he believed “it should be as easy to send money to someone as it is to send a photo”.
After recruiting a large team of developers in London to work on the project, the company is now launching it – initially only on Facebook and Messenger, and at first only in the US.
The move comes as Facebook announced that Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp were all being brought under one umbrella earlier this year.
It said Facebook Pay would “be a seamless and secure way to make payments on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp”.
The key to the system working will be whether it is adopted for offline transactions as well as online shopping on Facebook’s marketplaces.
Tech watchers say Facebook has long sought to replicate the success of Chinese instant messaging app WeChat’s mobile payments system.
WeChat Pay is a popular method for cashless transactions in China and is often used in physical stores as well as online – something which has made it one of the most dominant technology companies in the country.
Its popularity was partially driven by red envelopes, which in China typically contain money and are given as gifts on special occasions and holidays.
Digital red envelopes – essentially prize money giveaways – were a popular and viral part of the widespread adoption of WeChat Pay.
These envelopes appear in group chats and the users have to rush to tap the envelope and collect the money before the other people in the chat.
Two years ago, self-described “Facebook geek” Matt Navarra noticed the company had even coded a “red envelope” feature into its app which allowed users to send money to their friends.
Facebook did not launch this feature, but it may be released soon depending on uptake of Facebook Pay.