WhatsApp’s competitive advantage is in emerging markets, where its service almost always works, regardless of internet speed or available bandwidth. It’s the world’s No.1 messaging service, thanks to users from Latin America to Africa and most of Asia outside China. In these regions, there’s intense interest from local businesses that want to see WhatsApp commercialize—they want to be able to use the platform more efficiently to transact with their customers who pretty much live on WhatsApp.
WhatsApp is documenting business-user behavior in order to optimize for the largest use cases and is particularly focused on the big opportunities in payments and discovery. There could be a huge reward for over a billion people to move money around globally and could easily dominate in sub Saharan Africa where it is the default social media platform.
In countries where WhatsApp has gained major market share, central banks and other financial regulators will naturally be concerned about its impact. In India, where WhatsApp has around 200 million users, it has been testing its payments product since February.
A WhatsApp payments product could at once boost and upend the nascent African digital payments sector that fintech startups from Lagos to Nairobi and Cape Town are all working frantically to build. It might be the one time startups reach out to regulators to help protect their future.
While there’s no guarantee WhatsApp will be Africa’s biggest payments player in the long term, if it is able to navigate the regulatory environment in larger African economies like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya it would have a significant headstart over local fintech startups still trying to convince both partners and customers to use their services.