Meta Pilots Instant Crypto Payments on WhatsApp

Key Takeaways

  • Meta is piloting instant crypto payments on WhatsApp using its Novi digital assets wallet.
  • Starting today, a limited number of users in the U.S. will be able to make payments inside WhatsApp using Paxos Dollar stablecoins.
  • The payments will be free and instant, and won’t affect the messaging application’s end-to-end encryption.

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Starting today, a limited number of WhatApp users in the U.S. will be able to send and receive crypto within the messaging application using Meta’s Novi crypto wallet.

Meta Pilots Novi WhatsApp Launch 

Novi’s head of product, Stephane Kasriel, announced today that Meta, formerly known as Facebook, is piloting free and instant stablecoin payments inside WhatsApp.

Meta launched its digital assets wallet Novi in the U.S. and Guatemala six weeks ago. It is processing payments using Pax Dollars, a Paxos-issued stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar.

According to Kasriel, the Novi wallet will let U.S. users make USDP payments inside WhatsApp and do so securely, instantly, and with no fees. “The payments will appear directly in people’s chat,” he said, adding that the payments will not affect WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption.

Meta had initially planned to launch its own digital currency called Libra, a stablecoin pegged to a basked of low-volatility assets instead of a single currency. It was later renamed to Diem, but Meta ultimately abandoned the plans to issue its own money after receiving unwanted attention from U.S. regulators. As a result, it partnered with stablecoin provider Paxos and launched the Novi digital wallet without the Diem currency.

Stablecoins too have been facing increased scrutiny from U.S. regulators this year. Several agencies, financial institutions, and politicians have voiced concerns regarding cryptocurrencies’ potential to undermine the U.S. dollar’s position as a global reserve currency. Last month, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton warned that China and Russia could intervene in crypto to destabilize the dollar. 

On Wednesday, executives representing several high-profile crypto companies, including stablecoin issuers Circle and Paxos, attended a congressional hearing. The hearing focused on stablecoins, with the industry’s representatives arguing that cryptocurrencies, and specifically stablecoins, were a net benefit for the U.S. economy and the dollar.

Meta’s messaging application WhatsApp has two billion monthly active users. If the company were to roll out its instant crypto payments feature to an unlimited number of users globally, it could potentially be one of the most significant events for crypto adoption to date. 

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David Marcus, The Latest Top Executive To Leave Meta/ Facebook’s Crypto Project

Another one bites the dust. David Marcus stepped down as the head of Novi, Meta/ Facebook’s fintech division. The company’s first order of business was to create a cryptocurrency, but regulators around the world were not keen on the idea. After a few missteps and name changes, they finally released a wallet called Novi to little fanfare. The coin, now named Diem, is still in development and unreleased.

Related Reading | What Zuckerberg’s Meta Means for the Metaverse

David Marcus Says Goodbye

This is not the first time this happens, other top executives have abandoned Meta’s ship over the years. CNBC recapitulates:

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“Marcus’s departure follows that of other key executives who led Facebook’s ill-fated efforts in blockchain. Fellow project founder Morgan Beller left the company in September 2020 to go into venture capital. Kevin Weil, another one of the project founders, left in March to join Planet, a San Francisco company.”

Ex-Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel will replace David Marcus, who in a Facebook post announcing his departure said:

“The one thing I’m the proudest of during my time here is the amazing kickass team we’ve assembled over the last three years. This is the most resilient, passionate, determined and talented group of humans I’ve ever worked with. I find comfort and confidence in knowing that they will continue to execute our important mission well under Stephane Kasriel’s leadership, and I can’t wait to witness this from the outside.”

Mark Zuckerberg responded to David Marcus: 

“I’ve learned so much working with you and I’m so grateful for everything you’ve done for this place. We wouldn’t have taken such a big swing at Diem without your leadership and I’m grateful you’ve made Meta a place where we make those big bets. You’ve built a great team, and while I’ll miss working with you, I’m looking forward to working with Stephane to lead the team going forward.”

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For his part, Stephane Kasriel said via Twitter:

“I am so honored for the opportunity to lead the awesome Novi team, and look forward to continuing to build products and services that allow more access for people and businesses to the financial system and digital economy.”

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What’s The Deal With Libra/Calibra/Novi/Diem?

After many iterations, Diem is now a stablecoin prototype. For its part Novi, the wallet, is only available in the United States and Guatemala. Facebook/Meta is running a pilot program to test the technology and gather data. They’re trying to steal the remittances market in Guatemala, which constitutes 14% of the county’s GDP. Using the Novi wallet, it’s almost free.

Nowadays, Facebook/Meta is using the Paxos stablecoin USDP as their standard. About this, David Marcus said via Twitter. “USDP is a well-designed stablecoin that’s been operating successfully for over three years and has important regulatory and consumer protection attributes.  I do want to be clear that our support for Diem hasn’t changed and we intend to launch Novi with Diem once it receives regulatory approval and goes live. We care about interoperability and we want to do it right.”

Related Reading | Facebook Officials Claim Novi Received Approval From Major U.S. States

However, will Diem ever receive regulatory approval? For Facebook/Meta, that’s the Trillion-Dollar question. The company’s reputation regarding its handling of personal data is hampering the whole operation. And, well, governments around the world don’t seem to want a company like Facebook in charge of the money. And, well, the project’s been all over the place from the very beginning. No offense to David Marcus, who claims to be Diem’s “Co-creator & Board member.”

The project’s slogan is “To build a trusted and innovative financial network that empowers people and businesses around the world.” And, well, that’s Bitcoin. Why don’t they just plug in to the winning open network? Because Meta wants to be in control of the money supply. And that’s what government’s around the world are trying to prevent.

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Meta’s head of crypto to step down at end of year

David Marcus, the head of Meta’s cryptocurrency and fintech unit Novi, will step down from his role by the end of 2021.

Taking over from Marcus will be Stephane Kasriel, the former CEO of Upwork who has been at Meta, formerly known as Facebook, since August 2020.

Marcus announced the decision via a Dec. 1 tweet, noting that he had made the “difficult decision” to leave the firm by the end of this year. The exec didn’t go into detail about what his next move would be, but hinted that it may be something “new and exciting” that he builds himself:

“While there’s still so much to do right on the heels of launching Novi — and I remain as passionate as ever about the need for change in our payments and financial systems — my entrepreneurial DNA has been nudging me for too many mornings in a row to continue ignoring it.”

Marcus has worked at the company since 2014, initially taking up a role in the firm’s messenger service branch before shifting his focus to financial services in 2018 by founding Meta’s digital wallet Novi (which also bears the same name as the fintech unit) along with co-founding the beleaguered Diem stablecoin project which now operates independently.

Marcus joins a list of former execs of the social media giant’s crypto unit who have left the firm over the past 12 months, including fellow Diem co-founders Morgan Beller and Kevin Weil who both took up new roles at NFX and Planet respectively.

Related: Facebook’s centralized metaverse a threat to the decentralized ecosystem?

Novi and Diem have faced intense scrutiny from local and international regulators due to their connections with Facebook, with neither project yet to fully launch during that time frame.

In October, a group of U.S. senators including crypto skeptic Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Facebook calling on the firm to discontinue its wallet project just hours after Novi launched a pilot in the United States and Guatemala in partnership with Coinbase.

Now that the future of Novi is in someone else’s hands, Marcus reflected on his time and said that his proudest achievement was assembling a “kickass team” over the past three years.