Send money via Facebook? Now you can

Call it another sign that social media is no longer the exclusive domain of selfies, memes and holiday wish lists.

RBC today announced an update to its RBC Canada app that lets customers send Interac e-Transfers directly to any Facebook Messenger contact without exposing any personal or financial information. The announcement makes RBC the first North American financial institution to allow person-to-person electronic money transfers, and signals the continuing – and accelerating – maturity of social media platforms. When Big Finance deploys transaction-based services using online tools that were initially built to support basic instant messaging, it's one of the clearest signs yet that social media has officially gone mainstream.

Following their customers

Linda Mantia, RBC’s executive vice-president, Cards and Payment Solutions, told Yahoo Finance Canada the goal is to follow customers where they live, and seamlessly integrate services like peer-to-peer payments onto platforms where they spend the most time.

“If people are online and they’re chatting and someone says ‘I’ll go buy those tickets,’ you can, right in that app, send them the $20 or whatever it is you’re contributing, as opposed to exiting the app and opening something else. We want to be where our clients are and where their payment needs are.”

The announcement benefits Facebook on a number of levels, as well. The company has aggressively invested in its messaging tools to convince consumers to spend more time in Facebook’s universe. The launch of dedicated Facebook.com email addresses and the ability to exchange messages with external correspondents was seen as a shot across the bow of messaging giants like Google and Microsoft, whose Gmail and Hotmail (since renamed Outlook.com) services dominate the market for web-based messaging.

While the addition of P2P funds transfer capability to Facebook Messenger won’t dramatically shift the messaging landscape anytime soon, it gives Facebook Messenger a unique – for now – capability.

“We worked closely with RBC to make it easier for people to send person-to-person money transfers to contacts on Messenger in a safe and secure way,” Jordan Banks, Facebook’s global head of Vertical Strategy Facebook Canada’s managing director, said in a statement.

“Every day, 9.4 million Canadians use Facebook on their mobile device to connect with people they care about, and this new app provides a meaningful service for RBC customers.”

The move supports Facebook's goal of maximizing traffic and engagement. The company earlier this week announced it had hired leading researcher Yann LeCun to head up its new artificial intelligence lab. Facebook has also filed a number of patents that could help it dig deep into user-generated data to further drive advertising revenue. The RBC app adds to the data windfall, and reinforces how critical data and analytics have become to Facebook’s future


Canadian leadership


The updated app also sets a global precedent. If the service is well received in Canada, it becomes an easier sell in other markets around the world. It also highlights the Canadian banking sector as a tech-forward leader on the world stage.

“I am incredibly excited by what Canada has done on a global basis in terms of leadership in payments,” Mantia said. I’ve been talking to lot of banks in the rest of the world who dream of having real-time payment transfer between accounts done in a seamless way. Well, we’ve had that in this country for years and years. All we needed to do was take a back office capability and create a much more compelling and intuitive client experience.”

The updated RBC Canada app is now available for iPad users. An iPhone version will be released in February, with other platforms following later in 2014.

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