The social network is currently awaiting authorisation from Ireland’s central bank – the country in which Facebook runs its European operations – to offer users money storage, transfers between friends and payment facilities on the site, according to a report in the Financial Times.
Facebook confirmed it was testing a mobile payments feature in August last year, a move it said was helping it explore how it could help its app partners provide a simpler commerce experience.
The feature would likely be welcomed by e-commerce companies as it would remove the need to fill in credit card details and delivery address forms, which can often be tricky to complete on a mobile phone.
The product could also increase the amount of direct sales Facebook advertising produces. The social network has previously been criticised for not doing enough to prove the return on investment from advertising on its site to marketers, although the received wisdom now is that Facebook fan engagement can drive sizeable uplifts in sentiment, engagement and brand loyalty.
If the payments service moves beyond test stage, Facebook could also be able to provide brands with insights into consumers’ shopping habits.
Such services could also help strengthen Facebook’s efforts to expand into emerging markets, where many people do not have bank accounts but do own mobile phones.
Money transfers could also form a central part of the Facebook-led conglomerate Internet.org’s mission, which aims to bring affordable internet access to everybody in the world by reducing infrastructure costs, removing inefficiencies in networks and offering free or cheap mobile internet subscriptions. Where currently available, Internet.org’s free services include access to basic information such as food prices, social networks, messaging, weather and Wikipedia.
Facebook used to have its own currency, in the form of Credits, but it ditched the system in 2012 in favour of users’ own currencies that they can use in exchange for virtual goods.
In the fourth quarter of 2013, Facebook’s revenue from “payments and other fees” accounted for just $241m of the $2.6bn in total revenue it generated in the period, highlighting the opportunity for growth in this area.
A Facebook spokesman says: “We’re not commenting on rumour or speculation”.