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Is Facebook a bank? Congress pushes for answers on crypto foray

Kurt Wagner and Julie Verhage, Bloomberg News on

Published in Business News

After surviving a two-day battering on Capitol Hill, now comes the hard part for Facebook Inc.: turning its 12-page white paper into a legitimate cryptocurrency in the face of deep skepticism from central banks, regulators and politicians of all stripes.

David Marcus, the Facebook executive leading its blockchain efforts, spent much of his time at congressional hearings this week apologizing for the past mistakes of his employer. When he wasn't defending Facebook, Marcus tried to explain how Libra -- the proposed currency -- would actually work. He said repeatedly that he wants to work with Congress and regulators to get Libra off the ground, and has no plans to debut the new currency before regulatory bodies are satisfied.

"Nothing is launched and nothing will launch until all concerns are addressed," Marcus said Wednesday. He reiterated a version of that promise over and over during more than six hours of testimony in Washington this week before members of the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee.

Still, large existential questions remain about the project, including who or what will be regulating Libra. Marcus said it was not his place to decide who Libra's regulator would be, though he appeared to reject the idea that Facebook should be treated like a bank. Marcus denied that the company would offer banking services, and also argued that he doesn't believe Libra is a security that should fall under the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Those issues are unlikely to be resolved soon, since the Libra currency doesn't yet exist; and the Libra Association, the governing body made up of Facebook and other institutional partners that will be charged with overseeing the currency, has yet to be fully formed.

The 28 companies that currently make up the association have not yet drafted a charter, and still must appoint a board and a general manager. Libra will also face additional concerns from international regulators and lawmakers, which could further delay its progress.

 

In the meantime, two people familiar with Facebook's cryptocurrency plans say the hearings did not give the company any immediate reason to change course.

The people, who asked not to be identified because the planning is private, also said that Facebook's team hoped that other members of the Libra Association would be more active in conversations with the media and with regulators. Of the group's 28 "founding" members, including PayPal Holdings Inc., Visa Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc., Facebook is the only one that testified before Congress, and is by far the company most closely associated with the effort.

Over the course of the hearings, a few central questions emerged. Here's what we know now about how Facebook and the Libra Association will try to answer them in the coming months.

1. What is Libra, exactly?

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