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Bank of England's Carney gives Facebook's Libra cautious backing

·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney speaks at an FT event in London, Britain February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Bank of England governor Mark Carney. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Facebook’s (FB) new cryptocurrency Libra could “substantially improve financial inclusion and dramatically lower the cost of domestic and cross border payments,” Bank of England governor Mark Carney will say on Thursday evening.

Carney’s words are a significant boost for Facebook and the consortium of corporate giants backing Libra.

The new cryptocurrency project was officially launched earlier this week but met an immediate backlash from politicians and regulators around the world. Carney’s words are the strongest endorsement so far from a policymaker. Carney will also say on Thursday that Libra could become “systematically important” to global finance.

READ MORE: Facebook's Libra could spark 'mass adoption' of crypto

However, despite backing Libra’s goals, Carney will on Thursday repeat his assertion that the Bank of England will approach Facebook’s cryptocurrency project “with an open mind but not an open door.”

“Unlike social media for which standards and regulations are being debated well after it has been adopted by billions of users, the terms of engagement for innovations such as Libra must be adopted in advance of any launch,” Carney will say.

Libra must ‘meet the highest standards’

The logo for new Facebook-backed cryptocurrency Libra. Photo: Facebook
The logo for new Facebook-backed cryptocurrency Libra. Photo: Facebook

Facebook and a consortium of 27 other backer, including PayPal (PYPL), Uber (UBER), MasterCard (MA), Visa (V), and eBay (EBAY), on Tuesday announced Libra, a new global cryptocurrency set to launch in 2020. It will be controlled by a Swiss-based non-profit and aims to help the 1.7 billion people around the world without a bank account access financial services.

Regulators and politicians fear the new currency could enable money laundering, ceed control of monetary policy to private companies, and even endanger financial stability if not properly managed.

READ MORE: Why politicians and regulators are already going after Facebook's Libra

“It would have to meet the highest standards of prudential regulation and consumer protection,” Carney will say. “It must address issues ranging from anti-money laundering to data protection to operational resilience.

“Libra must also be a pro-competitive, open platform that new users can join on equal terms. In addition, authorities will need to consider carefully the implications of Libra for monetary and financial stability. Our citizens deserve no less.”

Carney said the Bank of England will hold discussions about Libra with the IMF, the Bank for International Settlements, the Financial Stability Board, as well as both the G7 an G20 groups of countries. The G7 called for an investigation into the project just hours after it was announced.

The future of finance

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes his keynote speech during Facebook Inc's annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 30, 2019.  REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes his keynote speech during Facebook's annual F8 developers conference in April. Photo: REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Carney’s comments will form part of his speech at the annual Mansion House dinner in the City of London on Thursday. The event is one of the most significant in the UK financial calendar, with the UK chancellor and Britain’s top bankers in attendance.

Carney’s speech will focus on the Bank of England’s response to the Future of Finance report. The report, published Thursday, concludes a year-long review commission by the Bank into how to keep up with the rapid changes in the UK’s financial system.

READ MORE: Facebook hasn't told us: why launch a cryptocurrency?

One of the key recommendations is modernising Britain’s payments system. Carney will announce that the Bank of England will consider opening up the central bank’s balance sheet to non-banks for the first time.

If enacted, it would mean private companies in any industry could hold accounts directly with the Bank of England, rather than working through retail banks. Currently, only regulated banks can hold money at the Bank of England. The floated reforms would be a potentially historic move that could have wide reaching implications for the economy and monetary policy.

“Whatever the fate of Libra, its creation underscores the imperative of transforming payments,” Carney will say. “The Bank’s strategy to open access to a wide range of payment solutions combined with appropriate regulatory oversight of them maximises the likelihood that the payments revolution will meet the demands of the new economy and the needs of all our citizens.”


Oscar Williams-Grut covers banking, fintech, and finance for Yahoo Finance UK. Follow him on Twitter at @OscarWGrut.

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