Today Facebook announced that the Calibra wallet has been rebranded as Novi. The CEO of the Facebook subsidiary, David Marcus, said that the Calibra name had caused some confusion, hence the rebrand. It didn’t provide a specific date but says it is preparing to launch this year.
The name is a combination of novus for ‘new’ and via for ‘way’. The Novi website refers to making a payment as easy as sending a message.
Novi’s wallet app will be available standalone as well as incorporated in WhatsApp and Facebook’s Messenger. For all the platforms, users are required to register using their government identity.
This follows a significant backlash from regulators where one of several concerns was a lack of anti money laundering procedures. In response, not only has Libra dropped the plan to become permissionless but also has beefed up its team by appointing a new CEO and General Counsel, both of whom have regulatory and compliance backgrounds. It also is adding several currency stablecoins in addition to its basket currency Libra. The Novi announcement mentions USD, Euro and GBP.
The Novi goal is to enable cross-border money transfers that are “instant, secure and with no hidden fees”. However, the website is a little ambiguous. In response to the question “Will Novi charge fees?” it says: “What you send is what they get. You can add, send, receive, and withdraw money from your wallet without worrying about hidden charges. Novi is cutting fees to help people keep more of their money.” From that we assume the answer is they charge fees for converting money, but it could be interpreted differently. The inclusion of yes or no would have been useful.
Interestingly, the company says that in the event of fraud, customers will be eligible to receive a full refund.
U.S. regulators have been especially concerned about privacy given Facebook’s track record. The company says that Novi Financial is a separate firm because it’s a regulated entity and also to keep financial data separate from Facebook’s social data.
It states: “Novi will not share account information or financial data with Facebook, Inc. or any third party without customer consent. For example, Novi customers’ account information and financial data will not be used to improve ad targeting on the Facebook, Inc. family of products.”
However, it says it will send aggregated data to and from Facebook. Moreover, it says that Facebook will share personal data with Novi to personalize the experience, where the user consents. For example, that might involve importing their list of friends.
That seems convenient. But the list of people to whom you might send money is probably a small subset of your list of friends. We’ve all experienced sending a message to the wrong person at some point. Doing that with money might prove a bit more painful.