Libra down to 21 members after FS exodus

Facebook’s Libra project yesterday confirmed that 21 firms have signed the Libra Association charter, following an exodus of financial services firms from the initiative amid regulatory concerns.

The formal announcement of a governance structure and charter for the digital currency project confirmed the continued membership of tech giants Uber, Spotify and Vodafone, but revealed that major early backers Mastercard, Visa, eBay, Booking Holdings and Mercado Pago have now followed payments firms PayPal and Stripe in abandoning the project.

The social media giant received a major boost in June when it announced that it had the support of major payments and financial services players to develop the Libra virtual currency and Calibra digital wallet, enabling payments across the Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram channels.

However, the project has come under mounting scrutiny from regulators and legislators, which have called for Facebook to postpone the launch of the currency - planned for 2020 - until the company can provide reassurances over money laundering controls, data privacy and potential risk to the stability of the global financial system.

Last week, the Bank of England hardened its stance, warning that any digital currency has the potential to be ‘systematically significant’ and would therefore need to be subject to the same strict controls and regulatory checks as traditional payments firms.

PayU is currently the only remaining financial services firm to formally join the Libra Association council.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Friday, David Marcus, a former PayPal chief who has been leading the Libra project for Facebook, thanked Visa and Mastercard for “sticking it out until the 11th hour” before exiting the project.

He explained: “The pressure has been intense (understatement), and I respect their decision to wait until there’s regulatory clarity for Libra to proceed, vs. the invoked threats (by many) on their biz. [business]”

However, Marcus remained upbeat despite the ongoing series of setbacks, adding: “I would caution against reading the fate of Libra into this update. Of course, it’s not great news in the short term, but in a way it’s liberating. Stay tuned for more very soon. Change of this magnitude is hard. You know you’re on to something when so much pressure builds up.”

Yesterday, the Libra Association - the Geneva-based oversight body for the digital currency - announced that 21 members had formally signed its charter, formalising the Libra Association council, electing a board of directors and appointing members of the executive team.

A statement confirmed that over 1,500 entities have indicated interest in joining the Libra project effort, and approximately 180 entities have met the preliminary membership criteria. The Libra Association was eager to “pursue its mission of building a better payment network, broadening access to essential financial services, and lowering costs for billions of people who need it the most”.

It added: “As an association, members will continue critical work with applicable regulators around the world, begin the important process of standing up a governance and policy structure and create a transparent membership criteria and admissions process that will be applied in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner to begin welcoming the first wave of new members.”

A statement from PayU said: “The mission of the association, to enable a simple global payment system and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people, aligns seamlessly with PayU's vision of creating a world without financial borders where everyone can prosper.”

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