Brazil launches 'Pix' instant payments system, Whatsapp to enter 'soon'

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s central bank on Monday launched an instant payments platform that will speed up and simplify transactions, as well as foster financial sector competition and lure in new players such as big techs Facebook Inc and Google.

FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Whatsapp logo is placed on the keyboard in this illustration taken April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Dubbed “Pix,” the state-owned instant payments system allows consumers and companies to make money transfers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without requiring debit or credit cards. It is also free of charge for individuals.

“Huge changes are underway in payments. Society demands something that is fast, cheap, safe, transparent and open,” central bank president Roberto Campos Neto said in a virtual press conference to mark the launch.

The move by Brazil’s central bank aims to increase competition in a highly concentrated banking system, with its top-five lenders, such as Itau Unibanco Holding SA and Banco Santander Brasil SA, holding roughly 80% of total assets and deposits.

As the central bank sets low prices for money transfers and payments via Pix, the regulator believes competition will increase. Itau’s card processor, Rede, said on Monday it will not charge merchants using Pix for the first six months.

By 2030, Pix is likely to account for 22% of electronic payments in Brazil, consultancy firm Oliver Wyman said in a recent study. Last year, debit and card payments in Brazil totaled 1.8 trillion reais ($382 billion).

Pix will cause banks to lose some fees as individuals use it.

The platform went live at 0930 local time on Monday, and can be used to buy anything from ice cream to a car, Campos Neto said.

According to the central bank, 72 million registrations have been opened for the service, by 30 million individuals and 1.8 million businesses.

Campos Neto also said the central bank is in talks with big tech players such as Google and Facebook about entering the Brazilian payments services market.

“WhatsApp will start doing P2P soon. I have talked a lot with their CEO, we are making good progress. He has told me that the process (with us) was faster than in other countries,” Campos Neto said.

“Our only concern is that we must go through all the approval criteria and that we have a system that fosters competition,” Campos Neto said.

Some 750 companies have signed up to Pix to accept and offer instant payments. Uber Technologies Inc said it started to accept Pix payments, hoping to add unbanked clients. In the future, Pix will add new functionalities, such as cash-back and preprogrammed payments, which are currently offered mainly through credit cards.

Reporting by Jamie McGeever, Marcela Ayres and Carolina Mandl; Editing by Chris Reese and Steve Orlofsky