Facebook has rolled out a new service in India that allows users to recharge their prepaid mobile connections. Even though it is not the big splash that was being anticipated by various media outlets this Facebook’s first step into the digital payments ecosystem in India. The service is currently limited to the Facebook app on Android. The mobile recharges can only be paid for via a credit or debit card only at the moment. The recharge service seems to be in testing phase and is only available to some users.
This is not the company’s first foray into payments in India, WhatsApp which is owned by Facebook launched its UPI powered payments service in February this year. By the virtue of being powered by UPI WhatsApp allows direct peer to peer payments between users’ bank accounts. Facebook has reportedly been testing its own peer-to-peer payments system for its messenger app but there are conflicting reports on whether the feature will see a release in India.
Mobile recharges might seem like a small starting point but as Freecharge, Mobikwik, Paytm, Phonepe and many other digital payment platforms have shown it is possible to scale up your payments infrastructure from there. While the fact that it would be offering a very similar product across two of its own apps which might sound like a bad idea, there is a precedent here too. The company recently integrated Snapchat-style stories across all its platforms, that is Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. But will the social media giant be willing to walk the regulatory tightrope laid out by the RBI and rules put in place by NPCI? That remains to be seen.
So is Facebook payments coming?
There are conflicting reports out there that say different things. FactorDaily reported recently that Facebook has hired Sunali Rohra from Visa as the head of payments partnership for India and South Asia. Rohra apparently also played a key role in rolling out Bharat QR that enables merchants to accepts payments over various platforms and services. The report suggested that Facebook has been quietly working on building a payments platform, which is independent of WhatsApp payments. This platform will supposedly allow “peer-to-peer and peer-to-merchant payments.”
But IANS has put out a conflicting report saying, the social media company has no plans as of now to bring digital payment facility to its Messenger application in India. The report added, mobile recharge option is a Facebook ‘Marketplace’ offering — which is actually going on as a pilot test which is right now available to only Android users in some regions.
Facebook is in the process of pilot testing its peer-to-peer ‘Marketplace’ in India. The Marketplace service connects local buyers and sellers, who are mostly looking to buy or sell second hand or used goods via the social media platform. Have some sort of a payment processing infrastructure might help the company expand the fledgeling service.