Amazon published a very striking job offer this summer. The company is looking for an “experienced product manager to develop the strategy and roadmap of the digital currency and the blockchain from Amazon ”. It is not the only great technology company interested in this type of profile. Apple posted a similar vacancy on its website two months earlier: you need a business development director focused on “alternative payments” (anything other than cash or cards). Both companies officially deny their intention to jump into cryptocurrencies, either by accepting them as a means of payment or by issuing their own cryptocurrencies. The movements they make in the area of human resources, however, show that at the very least they are feeling their potential.
The consequences for the global economy of Amazon or Apple targeting cryptocurrencies could be unpredictable. They are not just two companies: the first has revolutionized sales on-line; the second is the largest in the world by market capitalization (about 2.3 trillion dollars, with Spain’s GDP of about 1.4 trillion). Facebook has already tried unsuccessfully to launch its own cryptocurrency, Libra, whose failure has to do with the fear that the initiative raised among governments around the world.
In the description of the position offered by Amazon, still posted yesterday on the corporate website, it is specified that the person who is chosen must use their knowledge in “blockchain, distributed ledger technology (distributed ledger), digital currencies of central banks and cryptocurrencies ”to study the“ capacities that should be developed, lead the vision and product strategy ”and design the necessary investments to achieve a leadership position. The company also specifies that whoever is chosen for the position “will work closely with teams from Amazon and AWS (its cloud services division) to develop the roadmap” and “launch the strategy.”
The announcement sparked a torrent of speculation. A medium on-line The British even published a few days after Amazon had decided to start accepting payments in bitcoins at the end of 2021. The company has denied those rumors. “Despite our interest in this area, speculations about our specific plans with cryptocurrencies are not true,” underlines a company spokesperson. “We believe that the future will be built on new technologies that allow modern, fast and economical payments. We remain focused on exploring what this might look like for customers who buy on Amazon, ”he explains by way of justification for the vacancy, on which they decline to comment further.
Apple, for its part, is looking for someone with proven experience in “alternative and emerging payment solutions.” Its main task will be “to establish agreements and business models, define implementation paradigms, identify key players and manage relationships with strategic partners for alternative payments.” A work that seems to go beyond the market trial and that, as specified in the announcement, active at least until last week, would be developed at the Cupertino headquarters. The company has chosen not to comment on the nature of the position offered.
The apple company already has payment systems in place such as Apple Pay (payments from the mobile), Apple Card (physical credit card) and Apple Cash (money transfers). Although the official position of the company is that at the moment it is not considering accepting payments with bitcoins, they have never ruled out doing so in the future. “We are following cryptocurrencies. We think they are interesting and have long-term potential, “Apple Pay Vice President Jennifer Bailey told CNN in 2019.
The failed adventure of Facebook
That two of the main technology companies are looking for executives who are experts in cryptocurrencies is one more example of the interest that these new means of payment arouse. Amazon and Apple are not the first to move in this area. Facebook was the one that made the most noise, and perhaps that is precisely why it had to put the brakes on. The possibility that a private company that accumulates some 2,700 million users put into circulation its own currency, Libra, that escaped public control caused panic in the foreign ministries of half the world. The United States and the EU were quick to stop it.
Announced in June 2019, the European Commission took the first steps towards opening a formal investigation “into possible practices against normal competition that the Libra Association could generate, especially taking into account the information that will be exchanged and the use that could be given to consumer data ”. In September, the European Central Bank warned that Facebook’s cryptocurrency could jeopardize the EU’s monetary policy.
The then president of the United States, Donald Trump, did not beat around the bush either. “If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must be subject to all banking regulations, just like other banks, both national and international,” he tweeted. The SEC, the US financial regulator, began studying whether Libra had a place in the legal system as early as July. The US Federal Reserve was also not clear on its fit.
Regulators’ suspicion caused Facebook’s main partners in this adventure, including PayPal, Ebay, Visa, Mastercard and Vodafone, to drop out of the project already in early 2020. Facebook then decided to change its third: Libra would no longer be a cryptocurrency, but rather a means of payment linked to already established currencies. A kind of PayPal.
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