20230724 WhatsApp
Feature has previously rolled out in Brazil and Singapore Image Credit: Reuters

New Delhi/New York: WhatsApp said on Wednesday that it will offer credit card payments and services from rival digital payment providers within its app in India, the latest bet by the Meta-owned service to boost commerce offerings in its biggest market.

WhatsApp has more than 500 million users in India, though regulators there have capped its in-app WhatsApp Pay service to only 100 million people. People shopping on WhatsApp could also pay using popular services like Alphabet Inc's Google Pay, Paytm and Walmart's PhonePe but only after being redirected outside WhatsApp.

Payments via those rival services - and any others that run on India's instant money transfer system UPI - will now be possible directly within WhatsApp, Meta said in a blog post. New in-app options for credit and debit cards will also be offered.

The additions bolster Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg's plan for business messaging to become the "next major pillar" of the company's sales growth, an agenda that has assumed greater urgency as Meta's core ads business and metaverse project have come under pressure.

While WhatsApp Pay users will remain capped in India, there is no such limit on the number of users permitted to transact with businesses on WhatsApp using the other methods, a Meta spokesperson said.

With some 300 million people spending about $180 billion via India's using UPI each month, the new transaction options could serve as a powerful lure to attract businesses to pay Meta for access to WhatsApp users.

To date, WhatsApp has limited its end-to-end shopping experiences in India to pilot programs like that with online grocery service JioMart, run by India's richest person, billionaire Mukesh Ambani, and the metro systems in the cities of Chennai and Bangaluru.

Moving forward, the new payment tools will be available to any company in India that uses WhatsApp's business platform, which mainly serves large companies, according to the blog post.

Meta is also expanding its Meta Verified subscription program to businesses globally, giving companies a mechanism to validate authenticity and elevate their content in users' feeds, a separate blog post said.

Monthly subscriptions will be available on Instagram and Facebook in a handful of countries to start and will expand to WhatsApp at a later date, costing $21.99 per Facebook page or Instagram account or $34.99 for both, according to the post.

Meta, which acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion, has been trying to generate more revenue by charging businesses for some premium features. The new payment service will support credit and debit cards, along with Indian-based apps that are similar to Venmo or Zelle. It will be free for consumers to use, with businesses paying a processing fee that's similar to a credit card transaction.

WhatsApp is especially popular in places like India, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico, where it's common for people to chat with local businesses using the service. More than 200 million companies rely on WhatsApp's Business App to communicate with customers.

But turning that popularity into revenue hasn't been an easy path for Meta, which also owns Facebook and Instagram. Zuckerberg has said that the company's push to monetize WhatsApp has lagged behind efforts at its other social media apps. Bringing payment services to India could draw more users and businesses to the platform, creating a bigger moneymaking opportunity.

WhatsApp's Business App is currently free, but offers some paid features. WhatsApp also makes money through click-to-message ads, which allow businesses to create ads on Instagram and Facebook that link to a WhatsApp chat. Zuckerberg has said that such ads, which also work on its Messenger app, could generate $10 billion annually for Meta.