By Anna Irrera
NEW YORK (Reuters) - 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.
(Reporting by Anna Irrera; Editing by Sandra Maler)