Facebook’s closest Chinese counterpart is WeChat – a social network that acts more like a complete operating system than a single-purpose mobile app. Previously, we outlined three paths for Amazon to go into financial services, and how their business mirrors Chinese behemoth Alibaba. This week, we look at parallels between Facebook and China’s WeChat, extracting a few predictions for how Facebook’s product suite can enter finance.
WeChat is China’s dominant social networking platform, owned by TenCent. While it’s available for download worldwide, it has a vast set of functionalities inside China, acting more like an operating system than a single-use app. In China, its 800 million users can split a bill, book a cab, send cards, shop, and even manage their finances without navigating outside of WeChat’s app. For WeChat, these integrations boost in-app engagement, pull in revenue from service providers, and allow them to build financial products without becoming regulated.
There is a digital rat race to build the “WeChat of the West.” With Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram in its product suite, Facebook is currently the front-runner. Each of these products has its own set of advantages for Facebook to integrate financial services. Here are our thoughts on the potential of each:
Facebook acquired WhatsApp, and its 450 million users, in 2014 for $19 Bn. Founded and built by a Ukrainian immigrant, WhatsApp became hugely popular as a cost-effective way to communicate with people overseas and evade pesky SMS charges. Since waiving the app’s traditional subscription fee, $1 per year, Mark Zuckerberg has yet to monetize its huge user base, but that is likely to change soon.
With an international user base, WhatsApp is the logical platform for Facebook to test cross-border payments. It is already pushing to launch P2P payments in India, seeking to replicate WeChat’s success in Asia’s second-largest market. If P2P payments on WeChat succeeds, it will pave the way to add more value-add services into the app, like personal finance tracking.
At Facebook’s annual developer conference this year, the it-girl was not their social network, but their Messenger app. Facebook laid out their plans to embed business services into the platform, directly in line with WeChat’s strategy. Now you can order an Uber, book a reservation, or shop for new clothes, all within Messenger.
At the same time, Messenger has shown an appetite for P2P payments, and a propensity to help businesses boost their AI capabilities. These two strategies position Messenger as an ideal platform for financial institutions to integrate with. By creating new touch points in an app their clients visit daily, financial institutions can stay relevant to their daily lives and entertain them with custom, behavior-based offers.
Facebook is most likely to embed financial services in its core platform – Facebook. While people flock to Twitter and Snapchat to share live, sporadic updates, they still use Facebook to log the most important updates in their lives: having a baby, getting a new job, or relocating to a new city.
All of this data can help financial firms gain a deeper understanding of their clients lives, and tailor their messaging and marketing appropriately. From graduating high-school to becoming a grandparent, we share much more information with Facebook than we do with our bank. Integrating financial services onto Facebook can help banks avoid the “tone-deafness” that can irritate customers, and connect with clients on a personal level. With an older and more established user base, Facebook is an ideal platform for financial institutions to integrate financial planning and 529 products.
How far is Facebook Finance?
Unlike Amazon, Facebook’s patent applications (425 in the past year alone) have shown no clear intent to become a financial services provider. However, they have shown strong interest in integrating these services from third parties, most recently by acquiring an e-money license for the EU. Additionally, they’ve poached David Marcus, a PayPal executive, to serve as a VP of Messaging Products.
If Facebook Finance plays out in line with these early moves, it will create an opportunity for financial institutions to use the platform as their front-door. This will allow them to lean on Facebook for the front-end product, client insights, and AI capabilities, without causing it to be regulated. In return, Facebook will be rewarded by the boost in screen-time and engagement from its users. A win for both parties involved.