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Apple plans peer-to-peer payment service

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Eddy Cue

SAN FRANCISCO >> Apple is working on a person-to-person payments service that may give iPhone owners another reason to use their Apple Wallets.

The company is in talks with banks about the new service, which would let people use their smartphones to send money to one another as easily as they send messages, according to a person with knowledge of the conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The service, which could be ready as soon as next year, would compete with PayPal’s peer-to-peer payments app Venmo, and Square’s Square Cash.

Apple started Apple Pay, a mobile payments service, in October 2014. This summer it combined payments with Passbook, an app that stored digital tickets and airline boarding passes, as the rebranded product Wallet.

Apple has said that it wants a bigger slice of the payments industry. Jennifer Bailey, vice president of Apple Pay, said at the company’s annual developer conference in June that Apple’s goal was "replacing the wallet."

It remains a long way from that goal. As of October, less than 17 percent of iPhone 6 and 6s users were using Apple Pay, according to data from the research groups PYMNTS.com and InfoScout.

"A peer-to-peer payments product could help Apple’s Wallet gain traction," said Karen Webster, chief executive of Market Platform Dynamics, a consulting firm that studies platforms like mobile payments.

Apple’s work on a peer-to-peer payments service was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

Peer-to-peer payment services, which can foster consumer loyalty, are growing. This year, users of Facebook Messenger were offered a payment service akin to one that users of China’s popular messaging app WeChat use to send payments to friends. Google has also experimented with payments in its messaging service.

Banks are trying to create peer-to-peer payment products within their own mobile banking apps using a bank-owned digital payments network called clearXchange, which covers about 80 percent of all of the banks.

And Square Cash has processed more than $1 billion in money transfers since the peer-to-peer program was introduced about two years ago, according to Square’s recently filed prospectus for its initial public offering. Venmo, the money transfer app owned by PayPal and popular among younger users, processed nearly $2.4 billion in 2014.

To date, few of these efforts are direct moneymakers for the companies. Square Cash and Venmo are free to use when linked to a customer’s checking account, and consumers are charged only a small fee when using a credit card.

For companies like Apple and Facebook, peer-to-peer payments are a way to involve customers more deeply with their products and to encourage them to leave their wallets at home.

"Incorporating payments into a circle of friends or a social interaction like messaging makes it seem more natural to use a mobile device to send people money," Webster said.

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