Here’s why Facebook Messenger won’t beat Snapchat in the mobile payment wars

Facebook Messenger recently entered the P2P mobile payment wars. Will its rival, Snapchat's Snapcash? We don't think so.

Maybe it was the plan from the start, or maybe we all just stumbled on it as we were careening forward, trading our personal information to social media companies in exchange for shiny new features, but somewhere, somehow, someone realized what it was all about – banking information. That’s what Snapcash and now Facebook Messenger really want from us. It’s so simple, right? Yet it’s become the Holy Grail.

You can’t just ask for a user’s banking information. Who does that? Who’s going to just give up the co-ordinates to their safe without a little buttering up? But if you want to find a way to really monetize your users and hack the barriers between what you advertise to them and how quickly they spend – to create a true social consumer – you need that banking information.

It’s taken Facebook years to figure out the right questions to ask to get its users’ payment information. Rival Snapchat got the jump on them, releasing a peer-to-peer payment platform in November called Snapcash. But last week, after years of speculation, Facebook announced it’d be adding P2P payments via Facebook Messenger, bringing it one step closer to that Holy Grail.

Now the big question: Who will win the social mobile payment wars – Snapchat or Facebook?

The Sphere

To wager a bet on who will win the mobile payment wars, you need to understand what’s at stake. For starters, neither are the only players in the sphere. Both PayPal and its Venmo P2P sharing service and Square’s recently launched Square Cash (which powers Snapcash) have the ability to connect with your bank account and send or deposit money. They’re great tools when it comes to splitting a bar tab with your bud or passing your roommate rent.

Forrester Research’s mobile payments forecast released in November, only pegs P2P payments as making up 12% of the mobile payment pie. Remote payment – purchases made through an app or online store – will make up the largest chunk at 64% and in-store payments made using mobile phones will make up 24%

To make the sphere even more competitive for Snapchat and Facebook, PayPal continues to be the dominant player in P2P with 73 per cent of Americans who make these kinds of payments using the tried and true PayPal service.

But both Snapchat – which has 30 million monthly users – and Facebook – which has 1.9 billion monthly users – have an edge, which is they’re built around people and sharing as opposed to strictly financial exchanges.

Going toe-to-toe or rather thumb-to-thumb

While Facebook trumps Snapchat in user numbers, both platforms cater to a very different type of user base. Facebook focuses on building out rich experiences in timeline form, letting users carefully curate their lives to show their friends just how great everything is, while Snapchat has become a cheeky kickback driven by the ephemeral. Users share quick snaps which seemingly self-destruct, fading into the ether after the intended recipient has had a chance to peek.

More recently, Snapchat has bridged the gap adding a “My Story” feature where users can commit their snaps to a storyline (sound familiar?) and included a feature where users can connect with brand and official accounts.

But their approach to P2P money-sharing is more or less the same.

With Facebook, the first time you use Messenger to send or receive money, you will need to add your credit card or debit card to your social media account. Once you’ve done so, you can create a PIN to boost your security or if you have an iPhone with Touch ID you can ad additional authentication. After that, sending money is simple, just click the dollar sign in the Messenger app, pick how much and choose the card/account to send it from.

Snapcash is the same. While in text-chat, type in “$” and the amount you’d like to send. Snapchat recognizes and flips to the Snapcash button and tapping it will send it into a friend’s account. Oh, and don’t worry about your money disappearing – the user you’re sending it to gets 24 hours to accept payment, otherwise it’s refunded to you.

Jury’s in

Sure, if you want to look at it strictly through the lens of user base, Facebook has the numbers. But with its heavy-hitter status you have to suspect PayPal would target Facebook over Snapchat if it’s looking to trip up a P2P opponent. Snapcash has the power of Square Cash on its side, with small businesses already buying in. Plus, Snapcash still retains that here again, gone tomorrow reputation despite a mega data leak in 2013.

Our bet, Facebook’s “we-want-to-be-everything-to-everyone” approach will probably make it easier for users with both Facebook and Snapchat to go the Snapcash route for payment. When it comes time to cash in on the Holy Grail, which is tying advertisements to immediate purchasing by consumers, Facebook has the most momentum. But that quick, easy, and digital trail-less feeling most consumers want from quick P2P mobile payments? Snapcash is way ahead.

Andrew Seale

Andrew Seale is a Toronto-based business writer who contributes frequently to Yahoo Canada Finance, The Globe and Mail's Report on Business and The Toronto Star.