Updated from March 17 to include analysis from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey in the ninth paragraph.
SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- Facebook (FB - Get Report) friends will soon be able to use the social network's Messenger application to send money as easily as they would share stickers, photos and voice messages.
The money transfer option, announced Tuesday, is a simple process conducted inside conversation threads. It signifies Facebook's interest in having members' payment information on file. The social network's efforts could turn its messaging application, which has a monthly audience of more than 500 million people, into the go-to application Americans turn to for their peer-to-peer payments.
Shares of Facebook finished up 1.65% at $79.36 on Tuesday.
In the U.S., where the feature will be offered, Facebook Messenger's feature will compete with similar offerings from startups Square and Snapchat, as well as the veteran payments service PayPal, owned by eBay (EBAY - Get Report).
Facebook's new feature will be added to Messenger for Android, iOS and desktop over the coming months, the company said.
To use, members need only to initiate a message with the person they wish to pay, click the money symbol that sits alongside the other messaging options, enter the amount to transfer, and click the pay button. First-time users will need to enter their Visa (V - Get Report) or MasterCard (MA - Get Report) debit card information to send money, and recipients must do the same to accept funds. Once the information is stored, however, money will change hands faster.
Adding friend-to-friend payments marks a concerted effort on Facebook's part to turn the social network's services into more commerce-friendly zones. It should help the company collect and store debit card information from users who might later be enticed to make payments and purchases. Facebook is separately testing a "Buy" button inside the News Feed of Facebook's applications that members can use to purchase products from advertisers.
"We believe the call to action 'buy button' could be a $1 billion opportunity," SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Robert Peck wrote in a note. "Facebook could leverage the Messenger payment platform to reduce friction for the buy button."
Facebook has previously said that it doesn't make sense for the company to formally enter the payments business. The social network would prefer to reduce friction in payments, David Marcus, PayPal's former CEO and the head of Facebook's Messenger app, said at a technology conference in November last year.