Facebook is unveiling an ambitious plan to create a new digital currency and financial system to transform the way money moves around the world, and not just on its own apps.
It’s leading a consortium to create an open-source digital currency called Libra, set to launch in the first half of next year. The goal is for developers to create services for consumers to send money around the world easily and for free — with the same convenience as sending a photo or a message.
The Libra currency will not be run by Facebook, but rather by a nonprofit association supported by a range of companies and organizations. But Facebook does have a plan to profit from it with a new subsidiary, Calibra, which is building a digital wallet of the same name for storing and exchanging the currency.
The financial information from your digital wallet will not be used for ad targeting on Facebook’s platforms because the two divisions will be kept totally separate, the company said.
Michael Newberg | CNBC
“We’ve seen internet change the game for everything that could be digitized, except for money,” said David Marcus, the leader of Facebook’s Calibra division.
“The numbers really speak for themselves. There’s 1.7 billion people around the world that are unbanked, the same number are underserved by financial services,” said Marcus, who before taking over Facebook’s blockchain initiatives ran its Messenger division and was previously president of PayPal. “Now, anyone with a cheap smartphone has access to all the info they want in the world for free with a basic data plan. Why doesn’t money work the same way?”
The announcement comes after Facebook has faced a slew of privacy issues, raising real questions about whether people will trust the social platform with their financial information. Marcus says that’s why it’s so important that Facebook not be in control of the currency.
“It may sound super controversial but there’s no better way to demonstrate the evolution of our thinking, what we know we should control and what we should not and can not control,” Marcus said. “A network that enables billions of people to move money around the world should not be something we can or should control.”
What is Libra?
The new digital currency is set to launch in the first half of 2020. It will be run by a nonprofit, the Libra Association, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its goal is to be broadly accessible, stable and secure.
Unlike bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which can be hugely volatile and speculative, Libra will be backed by relatively stable government-backed money.
“If you buy $50 of Libra, your $50 makes its way to the Libra Reserve,” said Marcus. “It’s designed to be stable and confer values on Libra that makes it more like a traditional currency than any of the digital currencies are now. This is the way paper money was created.”
The fact that the Libra blockchain is open-source means that anyone can build a service or app that uses the currency. The wallets that are developed to use the service will be interoperable, so you’ll be able to send money from Facebook’s Calibra wallet to any other system that accepts Libra.
Consumers will not interact with the Libra Association, but will only interact with Libra through a digital wallet or an operator. For people who don’t have the ability to digitally purchase Libra with a credit card or digitally linked account, Marcus says he expects companies in emerging markets to create locations where people can exchange Libra for cash.
Who’s involved in this digital currency?
Facebook is joined by 27 other companies and organizations that are founding members. The goal is to have at least 100 companies and organizations on board for its launch next year. Each member of the association will manage one of the “nodes,” or locations where transactions involving Libra are validated.
Founding members include companies in the payments space: Visa, Stripe and PayPal, which will be able to help merchants accept Libra. Some tech companies are also on board, including eBay, Lyft, Uber, Spotify, and Latin American payments platform Mercado Pago, which could drive adoption of acceptance of the currency. Two European telecom companies are also involved, Iliad and Vodafone.
Venture capital investment companies involved have experience with digital payments: Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, and Union Square Ventures. Nonprofit and academic organizations on board are focused on helping people who don’t have access to banking: Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva, Mercy Corps, and Women’s World Banking. And four blockchain companies are involved: Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase and Xapo Holdings.
“The idea is that [Libra] has mass adoption — lots of trusted companies that want to join the journey, so there’s a chance of this becoming mainstream,” Marcus said.
This list of founding members invested a minimum of $10 million to fund the operating costs of the nonprofit association as well as to launch an incentive program to jumpstart the underlying Libra blockchain and to drive adoption of the currency.
Facebook’s Calibra digital wallet
Facebook’s Calibra is a digital wallet that will be accessible as a stand-alone app and integrated into Messenger and WhatsApp. Facebook says it’s designed to enable anyone to securely store money for free on their phone and to allow people to securely send and receive Libra around the world, with no fees for consumers, although Facebook is considering “very low” fees for merchants.
Down the line, Marcus anticipates Facebook will offer other financial services, such as loans, from which it could profit: “If the network is successful, it will be a big opportunity for us to provide lending to all these consumers,” he said.
Facebook’s larger goal is to get people to spend more time on its platforms. This launch will enable the 2.7 billion people who use its various apps every month to more easily make purchases from the 90 million businesses on its platform. The easier it is for these businesses to drive sales on Facebook, the more likely they are to buy ads.
Although Calibra is fully owned by Facebook, it’s operating as a subsidiary kept separate from Facebook’s advertising businesses, so it can be regulated appropriately.
One key use case for Calibra is remittances. Facebook says that every year $25 billion is lost by migrants on fees from the likes of Western Union. Marcus says the current process is antiquated: Immigrants send a photo of their receipt from Western Union to family members via WhatsApp so they can collect the money, minus a fee. Calibra would cut Western Union and other money-transfer services out of the equation.
A key for Calibra’s adoption is making it easy to understand exchange rate and transfer money in and out of the currency, says Kevin Weil, Calibra’s VP of Product who formerly oversaw Instagram Stories, Facebook’s successful attempt to battle Snapchat.
“The easier it is to go back and forth [from the local currency to Libra] the more confidence people will have,” he said. “If you’re banked you can imagine connecting your bank account, if you’re not banked then you can imagine a map that shows nearby money transfer experiences.”
Will this whole thing take off?
Libra is the first new cryptocurrency that has a real opportunity to bring digital currency to the mainstream, according to one of Libra’s founding partners, Anchorage, which acts as an institutional custodian for crypto assets.
It solves some of the underpinning issues that other cryptocurrencies have not been able to, to reach this promise, ” says Anchorage President and co-founder Diogo Monica.
“It’s based on a very scalable, highly efficient blockchain, that can do many thousands of transactions per second. And it’s backed by bank deposits and government securities like the U.S. dollar, so it will have low volatility,” Monica said. “The association has so many big players that already have relationships, which solves the chicken-and-egg problem of adoption.”
Monica says that Anchorage will operate one of the many nodes to handle Libra transactions and could sell its services to other members of the association for safekeeping of their Libra assets.
Marcus says if people don’t want to trust Facebook’s Calibra, there will be other apps to access the currency.
To boost its security, Calibra will have the same verification and anti-fraud processes that banks and credit cards use. To gain access users will have to have a valid government ID and use two-factor authentication, leveraging the likes of FaceID. The service will have built-in fraud production and dedicated live support. And if someone accesses a user’s account, Calibra promises to refund any lost assets.
Launching a whole new system comes with its challenges. “Every direction you look there’s stuff you have to figure out from scratch,” said Weil. “Not everyone is familiar with exchange rates, and even the folks that are, aren’t necessarily familiar with digital currency. I’ll take a lot of time to educate people.”
There’s also the question of regulatory approval. Weil says they’re talking to regulators and are in the process of getting money-transfer licenses, which they expect to have secured for a launch next year.
“People will misunderstand and think this is a Facebook thing, ” said Weil. “We incubated it, but it’s designed to be run in a decentralized way.”
Europe is at odds over who will replace Christine Lagarde at the IMF
International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde speaks during a press conference in Tokyo on October 4, 2018.
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images
European officials are still scratching their heads over Christine Lagarde’s successor at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to several people with knowledge of the discussions, with no standout candidate for the role.
Lagarde is due to start her new job as president of the European Central Bank (ECB) in November, leaving the IMF’s chair empty. In Europe, EU member states agree that the next IMF managing director needs to be from the continent — but they’re struggling to rally behind one particular name.
“The truth is that there is no readily available tried and tested European all-rounder,” a European minister, who did not want to be named due to the sensitive nature of the talks, told CNBC.
There is no official shortlist of candidates, but many governments of EU nations have put forward a name to take the top job. Some of the non-official candidates are:
- Jeroen Dijsselbloem, former Dutch finance minister and president of the Eurogroup (which brings together the 19-euro zone finance ministers).
- Mario Centeno, the Portuguese finance minister and currently Eurogroup chief.
- Nadia Calvino, the Spanish finance minister.
- Olli Rehn, central bank governor of Finland and former European commissioner for the euro.
- Mark Carney, the current governor of the Bank of England — a Canadian citizen who also has Irish and English passports.
- Kristalina Georgieva, from Bulgaria, who is currently serving as chief executive of the World Bank.
- Mario Draghi, the outgoing ECB president.
According to two other European officials, who also preferred to remain anonymous, none of the candidates have the right profile at this stage. Some names also don’t have enough experience or they are not liked by certain governments due to their political affiliation, their past comments or their background, the officials told CNBC. Since the IMF’s formation back in 1945, the managing director has always been from Europe.
There is also an age restriction to deal with. The IMF’s rules state that managing directors must be under 65 years of age when appointed and cannot serve beyond their 70th birthday. As such, the chances of certain candidates, such as Kristalina Georgieva, become much smaller.
“If (the) age limit is adapted to today’s realities, there is Georgieva and Draghi,” the European minister told CNBC.
France, who’s chairing the discussions across the different EU capitals, is reportedly looking at ways to change the laws. However, it is unclear whether that idea would be approved inside the IMF.
A source within the French government told CNBC that Paris “does not have a preferred candidate and will play its coordination role impartially.” Meanwhile, a separate EU official confirmed to CNBC that the aim is to have an agreement by the end of the month.
EU has 35 billion euro list ready if US hits EU cars: EU trade chief
European Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom holds a news conference in Brussels, Belgium March 7, 2018.
Eric Vidal | Reuters
The European Union would retaliate with extra duties on 35 billion euros ($39.1 billion) worth of U.S. goods if Washington went ahead with tariffs on EU cars, the bloc’s trade chief said on Tuesday.
“We will not accept any managed trade, quotas or voluntary export restraints and, if there were to be tariffs, we would have a rebalancing list,” European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told a committee of the European Parliament.
“It is already basically prepared, worth 35 billion euros. I do hope we do not have to use that one,” she continued.
GE reveals new parts for the ‘world’s largest offshore wind turbine’
GE Renewable Energy, a subsidiary of General Electric based in Paris, revealed “the first manufactured components” for its gigantic Haliade-X 12 megawatt (MW) offshore wind turbine.
On Monday, the firm displayed the first nacelle for the turbine, which will now be shipped from Saint-Nazaire in France to Rotterdam-Maasvlakte in the Netherlands. A nacelle sits directly behind a turbine’s blades and is a shell-like structure that contains crucial pieces of kit. These include the turbine’s gearbox, controller, generator and brake.
GE Renewable Energy said that a prototype of the Haliade-X 12 MW would be installed onshore in the Netherlands in order to “simplify access for testing.” Another nacelle is being assembled with a view to testing it in “actual operational conditions” at a site in the U.K.
John Lavelle, the CEO of GE Renewable Energy Offshore Wind, said the firm was “on track to start commercializing this new product very shortly.”
As technology develops, the size of wind turbines is increasing. In September 2018, MHI Vestas Offshore Wind, a major player in the sector, launched the first commercially available double digit turbine, the V164-10.0 MW. The turbine has 80-meter long blades which weigh 35 tons each, and a tip height of around 187 meters.
The scale of GE Renewable Energy’s Haliade-X 12 MW turbine is also considerable. It will have a capacity of 12 megawatts, a height of 260 meters and a blade length of 107 meters. The turbine will generate 67 gigawatt hours of gross annual energy. The company has repeatedly described it as “the world’s largest offshore wind turbine.”
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