For years Wall Street’s magnates have worried that Silicon Valley’s giants will shake up finance. Facebook thinks it has found a way. It will launch a digital currency, the Libra, in 2020. Mark Zuckerberg’s firm has failed before to popularise a payments service. And it is an unlikely guardian of other peoples’ money, given its habit of privacy abuses and evasion. But like or loathe the company, its new scheme has legs. The Libra’s value will be pegged to a basket of major currencies, it will be able to handle large transaction volumes and 28 other big firms say they will join a consortium backing the currency. If Facebook’s 2.4bn users adopt Libra to shop and transfer money, it could become one of the world’s biggest financial entities. That would herald a consumer revolution—but could also make the financial system less stable and reduce governments’ economic sovereignty.
Facebook’s interest is its own survival, since a new financial utility ties in its social-media and chat customers. Still, the digitisation of finance promises to make life easier and cheaper for billions of people. In China, where digital payments are ubiquitous, people transfer money to friends and firms within a chat app for almost nothing. In America 18bn cheques are signed every year. Fees eat up 5% of a typical cross-border transfer. And a threesome of credit-card giants skims about 0.25% from the global transactions they carry, which is worth over $30bn a year.