Messaging app Viber launches Payments, a new digital wallet for paying bills, money transfers and buying goods – TechCrunch

Viber, the messaging app owned by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, has been dancing in the fintech realm for a long time, launching services like money transfer and chatbot payments in various countries over the years. Now it’s set to double down on that strategy: It’s launching Payments on Viber, a new service that will let users create digital wallets linked to their Viber accounts.

Linked to other bank accounts as well as Visa and Mastercard, Payments wallets can in turn be used to pay bills and buy goods, as well as transfer money to other people. Peer-to-peer transfers will be the first of these services to launch, and they will be free. Services such as business payments will likely incur fees.

The service is first launching in two markets – Germany and Greece – with plans to expand to the rest of Europe, then to Viber’s wider global footprint of 180 countries this year and next. next.

Viber CEO Ofir Eyal said the reasons for starting with these two countries were strategic first.

Greece is what he described as a “purple country”, where Viber is installed on the phones of around 91% of the country’s smartphone users, representing 7 million Viber users out of a population of 10. .7 million people, and makes P2P transfer more viable. (there is an option to transfer money to non-Viber users, but it’s less transparent, he said).

Germany, meanwhile, has just 3 million Viber users, but Eyal described it as a “strong corridor” for transfers to Greece. Viber also won a security award there recently, he said, “so the brand perception is strong.”

For now, Viber’s pre-existing payment services — such as chatbot payments — will remain in place where they are live, primarily in Ukraine, Bulgaria and Hungary, Eyal said. To date, these have facilitated “millions” of transfers, but as payments grow they will be phased out, with payments functionality replacing them.

Viber has a large team of engineers working on its app – in addition to voice and video calls and text messaging, it provides a complement of other media and third-party integrations for users. But curiously, this shift towards fintech is done in partnership with an external partner.

Rapyd, the fintech-as-a-service startup that provides a wide variety of integrated financial services through APIs to a host of other companies, is powering payments in both initial launch countries. Eyal noted that Viber could also work with Rapyd in other markets, or opt for other partners. He also noted that Rakuten was not investing in Rapyd and had no intention of doing so. Viber may also integrate services from Rakuten itself or from companies that Rakuten Is invest as the fintech ambitions of Payments and Viber expand globally, he added. Viber does not entrust the entire operation to Rapyd: it will provide the technology and data necessary to fulfill the “KYC” aspects of the service.

Viber’s decision to launch Payments comes at an interesting time.

Eyal told me that Viber has “about” 250 million monthly active users — a number significantly lower than other messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat, whose active users number in the billions. It’s also a number that – like these other apps have risen to prominence – hasn’t changed drastically. The company isn’t quick to disclose exact monthly active user numbers, but in 2016, Viber had 823 million users (note: not active users – a quote from this issue of his PR firm here); the same year, an executive told TechCrunch that it had 266 million monthly active users. Currently, it has over a billion installs on Android and iOS, a number that has been growing.

So the idea with Payments is two-fold: it’s there to provide a service to existing Viber users to increase engagement and make the app stickier; and it’s there to potentially attract new people to the platform.

It’s not unusual for a messaging app to provide payments: the likes of WeChat have built significant businesses around payments. Meta, the parent company of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, has long been interested in creating a similar “super app” profile, although it has been very slow in its approach.

“We didn’t think mobile payments were so important five years ago,” Eyal said of Viber’s own delays in speeding up payments. “But then it caught fire in the last 2-3 years,” particularly around the money transfer functionality, which Viber witnessed first-hand through its own money transfer service. He said Viber now takes an open approach to how it develops payments, seeing what is happening and where. “We could well invest in growth, creating channels and communities around e-commerce. Or we can experiment with letting companies show catalogs or individual purchase items.

Realistically, however, it is valid to ask whether it is too little too late. In recent years, Apple and Google have made huge inroads into mobile wallets alongside many other fintech players, so it will be interesting to see if there is an appetite and a critical mass of consumers and companies looking for a similar solution in the messaging environment. Still, figures from McKinsey, cited by Viber, predict there will be $2.5 trillion in global payments by 2025, so this remains a hot opportunity, one that many established and new entrants are hoping to tap into.

And for Viber, today’s news highlights an interesting shift for the app, led by its new CEO (who took on the role less than a year ago on an interim basis and has taken the role on a permanent basis. in March 2022). The company has long worked to create “fun” features using stickers and GIFs and interesting twists on the promise of social shopping (surely a big area its e-commerce focused owner would like to develop further term). This shift to digital wallets and payments is a signal of how Eyal wants to lead the app going forward.

“We’ve had the adventure with more fun Snapchat content,” he said, referring to Snap’s partnership for AR filters. “But we will never be the Snapchat of our region. It was always clear to me that our value was in saving money when calling abroad, and we wanted to capitalize on that.

The idea of ​​providing value and a service that no one else provides is particularly poignant given Viber’s user base and what is happening in the world. The app’s two biggest markets are actually Ukraine and Russia, which are now at war with each other after Russia invaded Ukraine, unprovoked.

Although currently not making money from its Russian operation, Viber, which is end-to-end encrypted, has kept the service online where it has not been blocked by Russian authorities, as many communications take place between Ukrainians and Russians (there are still a lot of connections between people, despite the actions and rhetoric of the Russian government), and he continues to operate his service in Ukraine where he can — the occupied territories where Russia has taken communications control being the exception. However, it is not currently initiating any payments in either country, due to extreme currency instability, Eyal added.

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