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Why messaging apps are striking gold with peer-to-peer payments

As mobile messaging applications struggle to stand out in the increasingly competitive space, one surefire way of attracting digitally savvy users is by adding a commerce element that consumers can leverage in their day-to-day lives.

An increasing amount of popular messaging apps, ranging from WeChat to Facebook Messenger, are tapping peer-to-peer payments in a bid to edge out singular mcommerce apps while offering real utility to individuals looking to streamline their communications and financial tasks. Consumers may now use these messaging vehicles to transfer funds across the globe without going through a bank and send money to friends after a night out.

?As Google's Jason Spero and others have said, mobile is for action,? said Jeff Hasen, founder of Seattle-based Gotta Mobilize and author of The Art of Mobile Persuasion. ?P2P payments bring convenience that is universally sought.

?An estimate from Business Insider said that mobile P2P transactions could reach $86 billion in the U.S. by 2018,? he said. ?And there is so much more upside for mobile devices given the fact that the global P2P payment market exceeds $1 trillion.

?The messaging apps are prime vehicles given their popularity and interest in further monetizing."

Cutting through the noise
Both messaging and payment apps have experienced a significant resurgence in the past year, as the mobile sector continues gaining traction. While they may offer standout services with optimal user interfaces, consumers are ultimately searching for mobile apps that are able to combine several tools into one, so as to save their smartphone prime real estate.

Consequently, users may not want to download standalone payment apps such as Venmo, especially if their friends and family members do not use the suite of services either. The popularity of messaging services including Facebook Messenger and WeChat ensures that peer-to-peer payment platforms will have a sizeable audience to reach.

?With messaging apps at the heart of the mobile experience, consumers will expect to be able to do more and more within these apps, including payments,? said Talie Baker, analyst at Aite Group, Atlanta. ?Considering Facebook and WeChat?s huge user bases and the many features they offer including P2P, the offering of P2P services will become a standard feature for all messaging apps that want to compete in this space.?

Financial institutions are also seeing a prime opportunity for cross-partnerships.

Last month, Western Union brought global money transfers to the forefront by enabling WeChat app users in the United States to distribute funds to 200 countries and territories via the messaging service (see story).

Meanwhile, Facebook?s offshoot Messenger service first provided users with the ability to send money to each other via its mobile application this past July. Even consumers without Facebook accounts can press the ?cash? symbol within Messenger to instantly transfer funds to friends? bank accounts.

One advantage that Messenger?s P2P payments offer over Venmo or PayPal is the lack of usage fees. Venmo allows money to be transferred from credit cards, but charges users a three percent fee for each of those transactions.

?Owning someone money can be awkward, so social media elements are typically layered into dedicated P2P payment apps, to make them more social and interactive,? said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston. ?The big social media players like Facebook see this and know they can add utility for their users (and potentially capture a small transactional slice to help their bottom lines).?

Offering multiple features
While messaging apps have already hit a lucrative field by offering free communication tools for users around the globe, their cachet can be bolstered even more with the inclusion of P2P payments. Consumers frequently search for apps that contain multiple functions, in the hopes of not having to download several apps, each with a different use, which could easily eat up data and battery life.

Advertisers may also become intrigued by messaging apps? meteoric rise, especially if they manage to grab more new users from a slew of regions worldwide.

More notably, app users can expect to see major players in technology join the fray soon.

?One trillion dollars in P2P payments are made globally each year and Apple, Facebook, Google and others are not going to sit by and watch dedicated P2P apps dominate,? Mr. Kerr said. ?Established social media platforms with mobile messaging will have a big leg up in this space, as the U.S. market for mobile P2P payments grows from $5 billion now to an estimated $86 Billion by 2018.?

Final Take
Alex Samuely, staff writer on Mobile Marketer, New York