Since they began rising significantly in price and popularity in 2017, cryptocurrencies have enamored supporters with their future-ready vision of finance.
However, despite investor enthusiasm, the movement to fully capitalize on cryptocurrencies has yet to catch on at the enterprise level. Specifically, while companies such as IBM
(IBM) - Get Report , Alphabet
(GOOGL) - Get Report and Accenture have their own cryptocurrency projects well under way, few have taken the dive into launching their own cryptocurrency.
And even crypto's most popular and valuable asset, bitcoin, is only modestly used outside of its most ardent support groups. For instance, only about 32 million people have a bitcoin wallet worldwide. And the most popular crypto exchange, Coinbase, has a relatively unflashy global user base of about 13 million people.
To be sure, the movement has expanded considerably since its inception, with cryptocurrencies boasting a collective market cap that exceeds $250 billion. But it hasn't achieved the mass adoption that would make it a ubiquitous part of the financial system alongside cash, credit cards and other monetary tools.
Facebook Has a Fix
All of that could be poised for significant changes later this month when Facebook (FB) - Get Report is expected to announce its own cryptocurrency. While there is some debate about what it will be called -- both Libra, the internal code name for the project, and GlobalCoin have both been offered as possible designations -- the company has released many other details about its crypto.
The long-rumored digital asset has been in production since at least 2018 when Facebook began posting positions on its job portal related to the project.
In a recent interview with a German business magazine, Facebook's head of financial services and payment partnerships for Northern Europe, Laura McCracken, explained that the new token would be a stablecoin, a type of digital currency that avoids the crypto ecosystem's famous volatility by pegging its value to a more consistent asset.
However, unlike other stablecoins already on the market, GlobalCoin won't be tied a single asset like dollars, gold, or other commodities. Instead, its value will be based on a basket of currencies and low-risk securities that will stabilize the token's value without linking it to a single country's monetary system. Facebook's team, led by former PayPal president David Marcus, is expected to assemble $1 billion in assets to back its stablecoin and ensure its liquidity.
The social media giant has said it will release its white paper -- a technical document that explains how its blockchain and cryptocurrency will work -- on June 18. Typically after the release of a white paper, a cryptocurrency will begin trading in beta mode.
A Purpose and An Audience
Facebook views its digital token as a payment mechanism across its various services. For instance, its popular Marketplace platform allows people to buy and sell used goods using their Facebook accounts. Currently, users pay for these products in cash at in-person meetups, something that can become safer and quicker when digital currencies are involved.
At the same time, Facebook owns Messenger and WhatsApp, two of the most popular messaging platforms on the web, and the company's new digital currency will facilitate money transfers on those services as well. It's expected that users will be able to transfer tokens on these platforms without fees, creating an environment where users aren't just equipped to use digital tokens but where they are inherently incentivized to do so.
In this way, Facebook is targeting money-transfer services and traditional credit cards, as well as many other emerging digital payment services such as PayPal (PYPL) - Get Report -owned Venmo and PayPal's own app, Square (SQ) - Get Report and Transferwise. Presumably, Facebook will make money off a fee for every transaction processed, as these other companies do, but there are other ways it could monetize the cryptocurrency, including acting as a lender and/or just making money off the cash flow cycle.
Given the decentralized ethos of cryptocurrencies, Facebook plans to relinquish control of its token to an independent foundation that will contribute capital to "buy in" to and govern the digital currency.
Of course, many of these details could change by the time Facebook releases its white paper later this month, and the actual token may not become a reality until next year. According to TechCrunch, "Facebook is targeting a 2020 formal launch of the cryptocurrency."
With more than 2.5 billion users, Facebook's token could be the most significant addition to the ecosystem yet, packing both a built-in use case and a willing audience into a single punch. Although many questions remain, it's clear that this release will make a significant impact on the social media platform, digital payment options and the cryptocurrency movement as a whole.
In March, Barclays analyst Ross Sandler told CNBC that by 2021, Facebook could pick up an additional $3 billion to $19 billion in revenue from cryptocurrency transactions, diversifying away from its core advertising business, which has run into challenges lately.
Facebook's new crypto promises to be a big event, and it's one worth watching as it unfolds this month.
The author holds stock in investment holding company, Leucadia (Jeffries), and remains a partner in an emerging-technology fund. He holds no positions in cryptocurrencies nor in any companies that invest in them.