Money transfer company TransferWise has launched a new service that allows users to send money internationally through Facebook Inc's chat application, as competition in the digital payments landscape intensifies. The London-based startup said on Tuesday that it had developed a Facebook Messenger "chatbot", or an automated program that can help users communicate with businesses and carry out tasks such as online purchases. TransferWise's chatbot enables customers to send money to friends and family to and from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and Europe from Facebook Messenger. It can also be used to set up exchange rate alerts. Facebook already allows its users to send money domestically in the United States via its Messenger app, but has not yet launched similar services internationally. TransferWise said its service will be the first to enable international money transfers entirely within Messenger. Facebook opened up its Messenger app to developers to create chatbots in April in a bid to expand its reach in customer service and enterprise transactions.
Chatbots have become a hot topic in enterprise technology over the past year because recent advances in artificial intelligence have made them better at interacting. Businesses, including banks, are hoping that they can be used to improve and reduce the cost of their customer service operations. One of Europe's most well-known fintech companies, TransferWise was launched in 2011 by Estonian friends Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann out of frustration with the high fees they were being charged by banks for international money transfers.
The company, which is valued at more than $1 billion, is backed by several high profile investors including Silicon Valley venture fund Andreessen Horowitz, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, and PayPal co-founders Max Levchin and Peter Thiel, through his fund Valar Ventures. Customers in more than 50 countries send roughly $1 billion through its website every month. While the TransferWise chatbot is now only available in Facebook Messenger it can be adapted to work with other popular chat services, Scott Miller, head of global partnerships for TransferWise said. He said the service would eventually be extended to work in other countries and money transfer routes that the company operates in.
The launch comes as competition in the mobile payments and international money transfer sectors intensifies. Earlier this month PayPal Holdings Inc announced its U.S. payments application Venmo would be available within popular chat service Slack. While in January , Ant Financial Services, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, said it would acquire U.S. money-transfer company MoneyGram, in a deal that is expected to shake up the international payments landscape.
(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)By Helaine OlenNEW YORK Oct 25 The other day my 13-year-old, Jake, said, "Let's dress Katie up as a bat for Halloween.""I'm not buying the dog a costume," I said. Jake ignored me. "Katie, wanna be a pumpkin?" he asked the poodle. Since when did we feel the need to make sure our canines celebrated All Hallow's Eve?Perhaps it's inevitable now that Halloween is big business. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween this year. That's actually a decline from 2012, when we blew $8 billion, but it still represents an increase of more than 50 percent since 2005 and a major surge since 1995, when spending totaled $2.5 billion. What's going on? Call it revenge of the grown-ups. An increasing number of baby boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials refuse to put Halloween aside once they hit adulthood. The National Retail Federation says more money is spent on costumes for adults ($1.2 billion) than kids ($1 billion). According to a survey conducted by the financial literacy website Credit Donkey, 61 percent of respondents said they will attend at least one Halloween party. National thrift shop chain Value Village says almost 80 percent of moms and dads will put on costumes along with their children."When you look at other holidays, there is only one where the purpose is kicking back and having a good time. That's Halloween," said Mike Bernacchi, a professor of marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy.
PARTIES, PARADES, TRICKS AND TREATS Halloween offers opportunities to celebrate, again and again - sort of a costumed version of the movie "Groundhog Day." The suburban New York town where I once lived is typical: Last week it hosted a scary evening last week with a jumping castle and "spooky walk." Then there was a weekend Halloween parade. This weekend, the mall nearby will offer "costume friendly" events. On Halloween, the elementary-school children will participate in yet another parade. All that occurs before trick-or-treating on Halloween night. And, yes, the holiday has gone to the dogs. And cats. And hamsters, for all I know. The National Retail Federation says almost 7.9 percent of people plan to put pets in costume.
Businesses are obliging would-be revelers. Some sponsor "pop-up" haunted houses, and restaurants throw special dinners. Disney World offers Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (a $62 separate admission required), and New York's American Museum of Natural History hosts a "costumed sleepover" for kids and their caretakers for a mere $145 per person. A Miami cruise ship is offering a Studio 54 evening, complete with "gaming, dancing, dining and drinks." That's $39.95 per person, with cabins beginning at $75. Even staying at home will set you back, given all the decorations and candy you need. Robert Sollars, a business consultant and Halloween enthusiast in Mesa, Arizona, estimated that he and his wife will spend at least $100 on candy - not that they have any misgivings about it."I'm going to dress up as a mean cat, and since I have a deep voice, I'll growl and hiss. My wife answers the door as a zombie queen or witch," he said. "The kids love coming to the house because we scare the hell out of them."SPOOKY AND THRIFTY
Add up all the households like the Sollarses', and it's a $2.08 billion tab for sugary treats on Halloween. Ouch. What can you do if you want to celebrate but don't want to suffer the financial equivalent of a sugar crash on Nov. 1? Here are some thoughts.- Pick a number and stick with it. Determine in advance how much you can spend and don't exceed it, no matter how tempted you are to buy the creepy hanging LED clown for $40.- Wait until the last minute, if you can. Andrea Woroch, a consumer expert, pointed out that since Halloween-themed stuff is all but useless on Nov. 1, many stores begin discounting it in advance of Oct. 31. "Candy brands put Halloween images on their packaging, so the day before, many drugstores and groceries mark them down up to 50 percent," she said. Costumes are also marked down by about 30 percent in the days before Halloween, Woroch added, but that only works if you and your child are flexible. "If you wait till the day before, the lines are long and the merchandise is picked through."- Hack the costume. Encourage your child to dress as something generic - a tourist, a businessman or a pirate, say - instead of the pricey brand-name comic character du jour. Most likely, you can pull a costume out of the closet.- Recycle. Don't feel you can't wear last year's costume because posted pictures will reveal you reuse your old costumes. Odds are, no one is looking that closely, and if they are, do you really want to be friends with someone who would judge you for dressing up as a cat two years running?- Stockpile. Nobody wants to eat year-old candy, but you could go out the day after Halloween and buy those spiderwebs and gravestone props for pennies on the dollar. I might even be able to find a costume Katie could afford then.