LONDON >> The Bank of England is open to letting new payment services such as Facebook’s upcoming Libra hold funds overnight with the central bank, something historically limited to commercial banks.
In prepared remarks to bankers in London, the bank’s governor, Mark Carney, said it “makes sense to consider” extending access to new payment providers, as they “can improve the transmission of monetary policy and increase competition.”
He said Libra, in particular, could lower costs for money transfers.
There are several reasons why financial institutions hold money in reserve at the central bank but perhaps the most important is that it helps facilitate payments between banks and businesses. Being part of the plumbing of the financial system could be a benefit to upstarts like Libra.
Though Carney was broadly supportive of the future of new payment systems and their role in the financial system, he warned that the bank “approaches Libra with an open mind but not an open door.”
As such, he said, “it would have to meet the highest standards of prudential regulation and consumer protection.”
Carney’s remarks, provided by the bank ahead of their delivery later today, echoed concerns raised by other regulators around the world.
Facebook, along with such partners as Uber, Visa, Mastercard and PayPal, unveiled Libra earlier this week. The new currency, set to launch next year, could open online purchasing to millions of people who do not have access to bank accounts and could reduce the cost of sending money across borders. Libra could also prove attractive to people in countries beset with hyperinflation such as Venezuela.
But French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Facebook must ensure that Libra won’t hurt consumers or be used for illegal activities.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who heads the House Financial Services Committee, called on Facebook to suspend plans for the new currency until Congress and regulators are able to study it more closely.
Facebook said it will comply with all existing financial regulations, though it has not offered many details. The company said its wallet app for using Libra will walk people through a verification process to ensure they are who they say they are.
To get the access, Carney said Libra will have to address issues ranging from anti-money laundering to data protection to operational resilience. And Libra, he added, must be a “pro-competitive, open platform that new users can join on equal terms.”
“Whatever the fate of Libra, its creation underscores the imperative of transforming payments,” Carney said in his wide-ranging speech.
Carney said the bank needs to move with the times, as the nature of commerce changes. He said one-fifth of all sales in the U.K. were online last year and will grow to a quarter next year. And cash now makes up just a quarter of all payments, down from two-thirds a decade ago.
Libra has an additional challenge to confront. Facebook has faced a mountain of criticism over the past year or so over its poor record on privacy and its dominance in social media, messaging and related businesses.
Carney also said the bank will stress test the resilience of the British financial system to extreme weather. According to the bank, severe weather events such as flooding and heatwaves could mean higher insurance claims and economic losses such as reductions in home value. The design of the test will start in the fall, he said, and be completed in 2021.
The bank said the shift toward a greener economy also poses financial risks, including to banks and insurance companies that invest in energy companies.
“The path to a carbon-neutral economy will affect every institution in this country — very much including the Bank of England,” Carney said. “We need to do more than just cutting out cups and bringing up bees. We must lead by example.”