So, is Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency the future of transactions on its platforms or not?
Back in December, when initial details of Facebook’s crypto plans were starting to trickle out, Bloomberg noted that the option would facilitate money transfers within WhatsApp, “focusing first on the remittances market in India”. That makes sense – remittances are huge in the growing Indian market, and by facilitating such within WhatsApp, the most used platform in the nation, Facebook would be able to build its presence in India, and make its crypto offering an essential utility.
Except, that’s not happening. At the Libra launch event in June, Facebook clarified that India was not part of its initial rollout plan, which may, in part, be due to concerns around cryptocurrency from Indian regulators. Instead, Facebook has since switched focus to WhatsApp Pay, which it’s now planning to roll out to all of its Indian users toward the end of the year.
And while Facebook waits for Indian regulators to assess WhatsApp Pay, Reuters has reported that WhatsApp is now also in talks with multiple Indonesian digital payment firms over plans to offer WhatsApp Pay in that market as well, potentially reaching another 100 million users.
Which would be good for WhatsApp, helping it to build its eCommerce capacity, and good for Facebook overall. But it also leaves a question mark of the viability and potential of its Libra currency.
If it can’t be used in the markets where it would have provided the most benefit, regions where transaction fees add up to significant costs for regular activities, is there any real benefit to implementing a whole internal crypto-system within Facebook?
Of course, there is more to it than that, there are other benefits to Facebook managing its own, on-platform transaction system. But it seemed, at least initially, that the real potential of Libra was in these emerging markets, where not all users have bank accounts, and where providing a quick, easy way to shift funds to family would be a significant draw.
If that’s now not possible due to the aforementioned regulatory concerns, and alternatives like WhatsApp Pay deliver the closest, best solution, does Facebook really need the additional headaches that will come with setting up Libra?
Facebook will likely still push ahead with its plans, and the implementation of WhatsApp Pay could serve as a good precedent for regulators, and example which shows that Facebook can be trusted in this respect. But it may also spark a re-think of Libra, and the way it’s used. If it’s not going to be accessible in Facebook’s largest user markets, maybe it’s not as valuable as Facebook may have initially hoped.
For WhatsApp, the broader implementation of WhatsApp Pay will obviously open new doors for businesses on the platform, and new opportunities for those seeking to connect with new markets via the app. That, in itself, will enable new opportunities, but it is also interesting to reflect on Facebook’s broader push into on-platform payments, and whether it will need to change course and re-focus on different elements.
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