WhatsApp has been working on digital, peer-to-peer payments for quite some time now, and the Facebook-owned messaging company appears to have just launched the service in beta in India, one of its most important markets. TechCrunch reports that select users in India have noticed the feature popping up in both the iOS and Android version of WhatsApp, with many celebrating the launch on Twitter. Way back in April of 2017, WhatsApp confirmed it was working on a payments service specifically for India after local media reported on the upcoming feature, but it looks like it’s taken nearly a year for it to arrive, even in just a beta form.
Due to a number of factors, WhatsApp is hugely popular in India, more so than Facebook itself. For one, high-speed internet is not as widespread, meaning simple text messaging and other standard features built into WhatsApp, like photo and location sharing, are more efficient on mobile when compared to more data-heavy software like the main Facebook app. That’s led to an Indian WhatsApp user base of more than 200 million daily active users, with India as a whole surpassing the US for the first time last year in total time spent using mobile apps per month, according to mobile analytics firm App Annie.
For India users, a way to transfer money digitally is especially useful for local merchants and for friends and family to transfer funds among themselves. WhatsApp has reportedly signed up a number of Indian banks to help bolster its payments service. The company also makes use of the Indian government’s Unified Payments Interface, or UPI, framework, which allows for instant transfer between participating banks. It’s not clear when the full payments service will launch in India, or if it will make its way to Europe or North America any time soon. WhatsApp was not immediately available for comment.