Facebook exec acknowledges some people won’t be ‘comfortable’ using a financial product built by Facebook but says Mark Zuckerberg isn’t giving up — even if it takes decades

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
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Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

  • Despite losing seven key partners including PayPal, Visa and Mastercard last month, Facebook continues to pursue its financial services product, the vice president of that project said on Tuesday.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg remains committed to building new technology that would allow people to send money over Messenger and WhatsApp, Kevin Weil told attendees at the tech conference Web Summit in Lisbon.
  • He downplayed both the loss of partners and the grilling Zuckerberg endured at Congressional hearing on the topic last month, saying that Zuck expects the process to take years – or even decades.
  • Weil also admitted that people may not be “comfortable” using a financial product by Facebook at all, which is why Facebook has been trying to enlist partners.

LISBON, Portugal – As Facebook faces increasing scrutiny from regulators worldwide, US attorneys general and among popular opinion over a long list of scandals, the company is still plowing ahead with its new financial services product.

This is a product that would allow Facebook to handle people’s money.

Inside Facebook, the project is called Calibra. Despite what looks like a sea of pushback over the idea, Calibra is full-steam ahead inside of Facebook, the vice president of the project, Kevin Weil, told attendees on Tuesday at Web Summit, one of Europe’s largest tech conferences, taking place the first week of November in Lisbon.

Calibra is Facebook’s digital wallet that will work with Messenger and WhatsApp to allow people to send money, including the cryptocurrency Libra, as easily as they send a text message, Weil described. Facebook announced the project last summer, along with an open source organization called Libra that would oversee the Libra cryptocurrency.

Kevin Weil

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Kevin Weil
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Brian Ach/Getty

The intent of Libra was to involve broad industry support to build an open set of technologies for sending money.

Obviously, people can do this today with apps like Venmo, Zelle and the original, PayPal. But Weil points out, someone using Zelle cannot send money to someone using Venmo.

Facebook hopes to create a new ecosystem around Libra where anyone can build financial products not controlled by any one commercial entity, not even Facebook.

“Some people would not be comfortable using a financial product built by Facebook,” Weil said. This even though Facebook will not share the data collected by Calibra with the social network part of the business, Weil promised.

But, so far, Libra has had a bumpy start. Over the fall, seven major partners have pulled out including PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, Stripe, eBay and travel tech company Booking Holdings.

Weil shrugged off the defectors and pointed out that Libra still has the support of 21 others.

“That’s ok,” Weil said. “In 18 months this went from an idea to 21 fantastic, committed organizations.”

Weil also said that Calibra continues to have the internal support of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “When Mark commits, he commits.”

Weil said that Zuckerberg believes this project could take years, if not decades, to fully materialize and that it would involve a long road with regulators. Last month Zuckerberg was grilled by members of the US Congress over Libra and Calibra and a host of other issues and said he will not proceed until regulators approve it.

However internally at Facebook, technical work on Calibra is proceeding. Weil said he already has a prototype on his phone. Zuckerberg and the engineers involved with Calibra see this as a project to bring cheaper banking services to the world.

“At Calibra, what drives us is to make financial services available to more people around the world and make them dramatically cheaper,” Weil said on stage. “People at Facebook are inspired by the ability to help people all over the world.”