Facebook’s foray into digital banking has set up a millennial vs. establishment clash, where in a reversal, the old guard got there first.
Launched when George W. Bush was president, Facebook this week unveiled an effort to start a digital currency. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs were among financial institutions exploring digital currency well before Facebook started its Libra project, with JPMorgan’s roots going back to when John Adams was in office.
Besides the early start in digital currency, they are established financial institutions with combined centuries of experience in handling clients’ money.
“I’m far more interested in what JPMorgan and other financial institutions have in mind in terms of looking deeper into digital currency market than Facebook,” said David Garrity, co-founder of Blockchain consulting firm BTblock. “On the surface, Facebook looks compelling, but based on the past, this makes it a non-starter.”
JPMorgan, which processes more than $6 trillion in payments every day, in February became the first U.S. bank to create and test a digital coin, based in Blockchain-technology and enabling instant transfer of payments between institutional clients.
Called the JPM Coin, the cryptocurrency has a value equivalent to one U.S. dollar.
In May, the company rebooted Quorum, the Blockchain software which runs the energy commodity trading platform Vakt, trade finance Blockchain Komgo and now the token coins.
“We’ve tried making Blockchain ledgers into a reality and we started three years ago,” Christine Moy, JPMorgan Chase’s new Blockchain lead, said during Fortune Magazine’s Brainstorm Finance panel on Thursday.
While the JPMorgan Coin enables customers to efficiently transfer assets in their accounts, Facebook is seeking the wider audience of the global unbanked and banked consumers online.
“Facebook certainly has the audience reach to kickstart something like this. If they succeed, the real losers will be retail and central banks,” Aseem Sood, entrepreneur and former Product Lead at Google and Dropbox, said. “Central banks will likely raise even more commotion, as this totally removes them from the equation.”
JPMorgan reportedly is developing a digital banking project as a response to “Marcus,” the digital bank launched by Goldman Sachs two years ago, according to TechCrunch.
“We’re currently going after wholesale clients, and soon we hope all consumers will have access to using this digitally transferred banking system,” Moy told the panel.
While Facebook’s announcement sparked debate about its potential success and true goals, some analysts believe that financial institutions may be more trustworthy and better suited to carry forth a digital currency and banking process.
“I think Facebook is biting off a bit too much. They have some smart people but Facebook is basically trying to turn into a bank,” John D’Agostino, a managing director in investor engagement at DMS Governance, a professional fund governance firm. “Historically that hasn’t worked for non-banks.”
Germany’s Central Bank, the Bundesbank, claimed that the Blockchain tests by financial institutions haven’t yielded encouraging results, and that they’re slower and more expensive than traditional banking methods. Still, Moy claims that JPMorgan has been patient in moving its digital banking system for consumers because the company is focusing on doing it “the right, and safe way.”
“We spend most of our time thinking about how to do this safely in the regulated industry that we are familiar with,” Moy says.
Facebook, looking to create an ecosystem independent of a central entity, lacks trust from regulators who will examine its plans and consumers who would use the currency, because of recent privacy scandals, according to D’Agostino.
“I trust the banks to enter the digital coin market more than Facebook,” D’Agostino says. “Firstly, I trust these banks with my money already, and I know they will do it properly. ”
Central banks are stepping into making cryptocurrency and digital banking transactions available for their users.
Russia’s Central Bank announced on Wednesday it’s considering its own cryptocurrency in the near future. Chairwoman Elvira Nabiullina, the head of the bank, at a student conference, stated that development is still in its initial stages and that they want to prioritize the “reliability and continuity” of it before releasing the digital currency.
The United Arab Emirates Central Bank said in December it was working with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority to issue a cryptocurrency for cross-border transactions. While still in its early stages, the digital bank is supposed to be used only between the two nations.
On the other hand, Goldman Sachs had initially decided to create a crypto-focused unit in mid-2018, but by the end of last year, stated that “we have not reached a conclusion on the scope of our digital asset offering,” according to Goldman Sachs spokesperson Michael DuVally.
Citibank Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat said today at a Fortune magazine conference that Facebook didn’t approach Citi or any other big bank for Libra. Still, he said, Citi would consider joining, Bloomberg News reported.
With many unanswered questions about its plan and regulatory issues, Facebook still has a lot to show on how it plans to take on the digital currency market led by other financial institutions.