Facebook Preps For ‘Make Or Break’ Meeting In Geneva

It seems fitting that Libra‘s make-or-break moments seem to be happening during October, which is, of course, tied to the Libra astrological sign.

Depending on what you believe, fate is written in the stars – or at least in the case of the consortium-backed crypto, written in Geneva.

Interestingly, the Libra sign supposedly carries with it these attributes: “They are quite willing to stand alone against injustice, but prefer to be part of the group. They seek out happiness in people and places, choosing to be surrounded by positive energy.”

It remains to be seen how the group stands together … or whether it falls apart.

As has been widely reported by CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and other outlets, the member firms behind the Libra Association, now at 27 firms (down one PayPal), are slated to meet on Monday (Oct. 14) in Switzerland. There’s an agenda behind the meeting, of course, where the companies will appoint a board of directors.

One wonders if the agenda will be even broader – perhaps even existential – in scope. The goal of providing what has been billed by proponents as a new way to transact, and to foster financial inclusion, has been running time and again into a steely and cynical regulatory gaze that seemingly comes from all corners of the globe.

The Geneva confab follows up a meeting seen earlier in the month, fostering a trend of … well, meetings. It should be noted, as mused by Karen Webster in a recent column, that the project (now basically synonymous with Facebook) has yet to see commitments of capital from the member firms. The founding members are supposed to pony up $10 million each to back the crypto project, and in doing so commit to Libra operations, such as promoting the open-sourced blockchain and creating the digital currency from a basket of real (fiat) currencies.

It’s been well-known that the crypto is being looked at askance by regulators beyond the U.S. In one warning from distant shores, this past week the Bank of England, through its financial policy committee, said Libra must satisfy the “highest standards” to be used there.

The lack of financial commitment – or at least the announcements of concrete “money where your mouth is” commitments – means, of course, that no one has to stay in the club if they don’t want to.

Tough Crowd

PayPal, for one, didn’t want to – and the timing of its exit spotlights just how tough the sledding might be for Libra … and the toughest audience might be right here at home.

For starters, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is likely to come back to Capitol Hill and testify before the House Financial Services Committee. The reception is likely to be less than warm, as Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters has said the whole plan should be scrapped.

The Zuckerberg hearing, scheduled for Oct. 23, could be much informed by the Oct. 14 meeting in Geneva. If more companies leave the association, Zuckerberg comes to the Hill with a weakened argument. If firms – especially network giants such as Visa and Mastercard – throw their vocal support behind Libra (and, by extension, Facebook), his position is strengthened, as he can argue that a diverse set of payments stakeholders are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder in the Libra effort.

Visa and Mastercard Mulling it All?

But according to Bloomberg, at least some Senate Democrats have been “urging” Visa, Mastercard and Stripe to examine their participation in the Libra movement.

As reported, Sherrod Brown, who serves as the senior Democrat on the banking committee, and Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, said in a letter to those firms that “Congress, financial regulators and potential Libra Association member companies have struggled to get sufficient details from Facebook about risks that Libra may pose, including facilitating criminal and terrorist financing, destabilizing the global financial system, interfering with monetary policy or exposing consumers to risks currently limited to accredited investors.”

As the senators wrote elsewhere in the letter, “we urge you to carefully consider how your companies will manage these risks before proceeding, given that Facebook has not yet demonstrated to Congress, financial regulators – and perhaps not even to your companies – that it is taking these risks seriously.”

In response to reports of those missives, and in a statement to Business Insider, Dante Disparte, head of policy and communications for the Libra Association, said: “The Libra Association maintains its commitment to not launch until questions and concerns by regulators are addressed. This is enshrined in our long launch runway, which has helped inform regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders around the world about our commitment to responsible financial innovation and strong oversight.”

That long road suddenly seems a lot longer … and rockier.

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