Get ready for ZuckBucks. David Marcus, head of Facebook Messenger and all-round payment guru, joined Coinbase’s board of directors this week. The move doesn’t necessarily mean that Facebook is about to dive headfirst into the bitcoin mania, as tech people serve on multiple boards all the time. However, it could mean warmer relations that one day lead to a Mark Zuckerberg currency.
“Thrilled to join the Coinbase Board!” Marcus said on his Facebook page Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to doing my best to help [Coinbase CEO and co-founder] Brian Armstrong and the amazing team he’s assembled, continue to democratize access to cryptocurrencies, and deliver on the mission to create an open financial system for the world.”
A Facebook that uses cryptocurrency could enable that open financial system. While bitcoin’s value has surged from $2,000 in May to $14,000 in December, it’s still a concept that barely registers in the average person’s daily routine. The same cannot be said about Facebook: with more than two billion active monthly users, the social network claims more than a quarter of humanity among its user base. Crypto adoption on Facebook would be the seismic shift advocates only dream about.
If that’s something Facebook wants to achieve, Marcus would be the guy to make it happen. He founded mobile payments startup Zong in 2008, and he served as CEO until it was acquired by PayPal in 2011. He worked as Paypal’s vice president of mobile products before taking over as president just eight months after joining the company.
In 2014, he jumped over to Messenger. That might have seemed like a sideways move for a money man, but the move started to make more sense just a few months later. In March 2015, during the company’s second quarter earnings call, Facebook revealed that they would take on the likes of Venmo and Square Cash with with their own person-to-person payments.
Facebook has since expanded these payment features with chatbots. Unveiled in April 2016, they allow consumers to interact with an artificial intelligence and make purchases from the likes of Spring, Adidas, and Just Eat.
These features are okay, but a cryptocurrency could give them a much-needed adrenaline boost to turn them into payment goliaths. One startup, Tigereum, believes it’s the way of the future. A chatbot that runs on top of Facebook Messenger, it uses cryptocurrency to make international payments easier than ever, enabling superfast exchanges that don’t depend on banks or switching directly between currencies. A Facebook-native solution could make this even faster.
Of course, there’s already an obvious option on the market that Facebook could adopt — why wouldn’t the world’s biggest social media network want to use the world’s biggest cryptocurrency?
But then, Facebook might well change bitcoin far more than bitcoin would change Facebook. Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive and the founder of major Silicon Valley venture capital firm Social Capital, said in a 2014 fireside chat that a Facebook secure wallet could enable governmental oversight, with people who want to be named tagged to an existing identity.
“That would be a game changer for bitcoin overnight,” Palihapitiya said.
A seamless, decentralized, open currency that works over the internet, backed by the world’s largest social network. It’s perhaps ironic for a company held up as emblematic of 21st century capitalism that Facebook could do more than anyone else to end the existing financial structure.