WhatsApp officially launched the ‘WhatsApp Business App’ that is built for small businesses who use the platform on Thursday. This launch is the Facebook-owned entity’s first major step towards monetising a section of its over 1.3 billion active user base.

The app has been launched on Google Play in Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the UK and the US on Thursday, and will be coming to India and other parts of the world in next few weeks. An iPhone version is also reportedly in the works.

How does it work? The free app (free for now) helps companies connect with their customers and establish an official presence on WhatsApp. Business accounts will be able to set up automatic replies, see statistics about their messaging and set up a profile page with information like information such as address, business hours, and description of product or service offered within hours of operation. Essentially it is similar to a business’ Facebook page but on WhatsApp.

The company had previously announced the app’s arrival and begun verifying business accounts as part of its WhatsApp Business pilot program back in September 2017. Just like Twitter and Facebook verified accounts were given a checkmark next to their name.

A report on The Next Web quotes a WhatsApp spokesperson saying, the current feature set will remain free in the long term, but WhatsApp plans on charging for additional capabilities in the future. The company is essentially aiming for a freemium model, with free users getting a significant amount of features.

In an interview with the Economic Times WhatsApp COO, Matt Idema said, according to internal research over 84% of small businesses who use WhatsApp in India think that it helps them communicate with their customers, and 80% of them think that it helps them grow their business.

WhatsApp UPI payments the next step?

WhatsApp is reportedly set to launch a built-in payments feature by the end of February. A report on the Economic Times quotes unnamed sources saying, the messaging app is at various stages of integrating its Unified Payments Interface (UPI)-based payments feature with State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank.

According to one source quoted by ET, the platform is already in beta testing with one of its partner banks and that the product is expected to go live by the end February. The report also quotes a banker who said, security checks are being done to ensure the safety of the data. The final step following security checks in the integration process involves testing the product among select users before it can go live.

The Facebook-owned messaging app had received government approval for UPI integration last July.

Medianama’s take

Launching with free businesses may be a kind of extended beta test for WhatsApp’s business platform. With the platform offering such a bevvy of features to small businesses for free, it’s apparent that the monetisation play may not be heavily focussed on them joining and using the platform to communicate with customers. In India, the integration of UPI will allow it charge businesses for transactions on the app. The Business app will later be joined by an enterprise solution aimed at large businesses with a global customer base – like airlines, e-commerce sites, and banks, WhatsApp had said last fall. The enterprise solution is where the money is at for WhatsApp, as it has stated it plans to charge for these features.