Facebook is reportedly working on a cryptocurrency money transfer application that will be integrated into WhatsApp. The service, which is set to be launched in India upon approval, will apparently target the remittances market.
According to Bloomberg, WhatsApp is developing a stablecoin for the project, and its value will be pinned to that of the U.S. dollar. A stablecoin will be able to overcome the huge price swings that affect the value of digital currencies such as Bitcoin whose rates can shift by over 10 percent within 48 hours.
Facebook has been carrying out research related to blockchain and digital coins for some time now. In May, it put together a research unit headed by former President of PayPal, David Marcus. He is currently also Vice President of Messaging Products at the company. The group currently has about 40 researchers. Marcus is believed to have played a key role in the company’s latest crypto venture.
The Facebook exec has previously talked about the prospect of bringing cryptocurrency payments to Facebook Messenger and pointed out a few drawbacks. In his view, high transaction fees and slow processing times would definitely hinder widespread adaptation of such a feature. He was, however, optimistic that the cryptocurrency community would in time come up with solutions that would make a crypto payment integration feasible.
Facebook is reported to be on a hiring spree to build up its crypto-blockchain research and development team, which is currently comprised of former PayPal and Instagram execs. Some Facebook employees have also been recruited and including Geoff Teehan, who is Head of Product Design and Morgan Beller, a member of the Corporate Development team at the company.
Why Crypto Payments in India?
India tops the list of countries with the highest volume of cash remittances from abroad. Figures from 2017 stand at about $69 million, according to a recent World Bank report. This was a 9.9 percent increase from the previous year. Total global remittance figures reached $613 billion in 2017.
Facebook is thought to be targeting this market with its WhatsApp crypto application. India currently has over 200 million WhatsApp users. The application also has a market penetration of about 28 percent, according to data from Statista.
WhatsApp Has Been Pushing for a Payment Service Approval
WhatsApp CEO, Chris Daniels, was recently reported to have sent a letter to the Reserve Bank of India requesting to extend payment services to its users in the country.
The letter, which is dated November 5, sought for the approval of a BHIM UPI (Unified Payments Interface). The company is reportedly also working with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to fulfill regulatory requirements and has already started to implement recommendations from the RBI. They include data storage requirements that oblige the company to provide unfettered access of payments info to the RBI. The proposal is still awaiting approval.
In February, WhatsApp began testing its payment platform in India. The project was undertaken in conjunction with ICICI Bank. Around 700,000 users reportedly took part in the program. The rollout was postponed after the Cambridge Analytica scandal exploded. It led to serious privacy concerns that prompted the Reserve Bank of India to issue a new directive targeting data storage and access requirements forcing the company to remodel the project.
A crypto-payments system approval from the Indian government would make WhatsApp a leading funds transfer platform in the country.
The Impact on the Remittances Market in India
A cryptocurrency remittance feature is likely to lead to reduced costs in transactions, as well as, faster processing as opposed to conventional modes of money transfer. Regular cash transfer platforms charge transaction fees that can reach and exceed 5 percent of the total figure transacted. Making cross-border payments can attract a currency conversion fee.
In many cases, the process can take a few days for the funds to reach the recipient. On the other hand, cryptocurrency transaction fees are usually extremely low. TRON transactions, for example, only lead to a fee of about $0.0000901, while Monero trades cost about $0.01. This is according to data obtained from Bitinfo Charts.
Tether, which is the most popular stablecoin by market trade volume, does not charge any rates for transfers but applies withdrawal charges.
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