Among millennials, especially those obsessed with credit card rewards, paying for a group dinner often involves deciding who gets to charge the bill to their card while everyone else pays their share using the Venmo mobile payments service.
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The new feature adds a dollar sign icon to group conversations. Tapping it will let you chose who to request money from: you can enter individual amounts for each person or a total sum to divide evenly. Messenger will even ask whether you want to include yourself in the calculation. You name your request and send it, and then the app keeps track of who has paid up via messages that appear in the group thread. You can also access a detailed breakdown of the payment status.
While Venmo, owned by PayPal, has been around since 2009, Facebook is a relative newcomer to mobile payments between individuals. Messenger first added a payment capability in 2015, limited to requesting and sending money to and from individuals, not groups. The free feature links to a bank account, and transfers are made immediately but funds may take up to three business days to become available.
Meanwhile, one of Venmo's signature features is its tight integration with Facebook: while you can have the app analyze your phone's contact list, its preferred method is to import your Facebook profile to generate a list of friends for payments and charges. While Facebook's developer policies will likely prevent it from unilaterally curbing Venmo's access, it's clear that by beefing up its own payments service, Facebook is looking to compete with Venmo head-on.