Facebook (FB) is recruiting financial firms to help start a cryptocurrency-based payments system, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The effort would likely represent the most mainstream application yet of cryptocurrency. Facebook has discussed the matter with payments firms including Visa (V) , MasterCard (MA) and First Data Corp. (FDC) , the paper reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The initiative, seeking total investments of about $1 billion, has been underway for more than a year and is code-named Project Libra, according to the report. Bloomberg and the New York Times have previously reported that Facebook was looking to develop its own cryptocurrency that users of its WhatsApp platform could use to exchange money with each other.
A spokeswoman for Facebook's blockchain efforts declined to comment to the Journal, saying simply that it "is exploring many different applications."
Big investors are pumping money into hedge funds and venture-capital firms that specialize in the fledgling market for cryptocurrencies, despite last year's collapse in prices for bitcoin and other leading currencies.
In just the past 12 months, investments in cryptocurrency-related assets have nearly tripled to $14.4 billion, across more than 700 companies and funds, according to industry tracker Crypto Fund Research. Regulators in New York State describe the market as "thriving" and have granted virtual-currency trading approvals known as "BitLicenses" to at least 18 companies.
Yet giant U.S. banks such as JPMorgan Chase (JPM) , Goldman Sachs Group (GS) and Bank of New York Mellon (BK) , which dominate Wall Street trading in everything from bonds and stocks to commodities and foreign exchange, have refrained from publicly jumping into the market in a major way due to uncertainty about federal regulation.
Facebook shares were trading up 1.8% to $196.03 on Friday afternoon. The stock is up about 48% so far this year.
On Friday, the price of bitcoin jumped 5.7% to $5,690, according to the website CoinDesk.