What is Libra

Libra is a permissioned, blockchain-based stablecoin payment system.

The Libra payment system will support single-currency stablecoins and a multi-currency coin (LBR) that will be a digital composite of some of the single-currency stablecoins available on the Libra network.

All Libra coins will be fully backed by cash & cash equivalents and short-term government securities held by a geographically distributed network of custodian banks.

History

Libra’s origins can be traced back to 2017 when Libra co-creator and Calibra head of strategy, Morgan Beller, became the first person at Facebook’s secret blockchain initiative. Month’s later, CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed his desire to “go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of” cryptocurrencies in his New Year’s resolution post.

On May 8, 2018, Facebook Vice President David Marcus announced that he would be moving from Facebook’s Messenger division to lead Facebook’s blockchain initiative, kicking the initiative into high gear. By February 2019, there were more than 50 engineers working on the project.

In May 2019 it was confirmed that Facebook planned to launch a stablecoin backed by multiple currencies as part of a payments network designed to enable billions of users to make online purchases and transfer money between each other.

Announcement

On June 18, 2019 Facebook officially unveiled Libra: it’s permissioned blockchain-based payment system. It’s token, Libra, would be a stablecoin fully backed by a basket of fiat currencies and government securities, held in the “Libra Reserve.” Facebook also announced that it would develop a digital wallet for the project under its new subsidiary called Calibra, led by Libra co-creators Morgan Beller, David Marcus and Kevin Weil.

The Libra blockchain and Libra Reserve would be governed by the Libra Association: a Swiss based membership organization responsible for the governance of the Libra network and development of the Libra project. The 27 members planned to invest $10 million a piece to receive Libra Investment tokens and become validators of the Libra network.

Although the project would be permissioned at launch, the association aimed to begin transitioning to permissionless governance and consensus within five years.

Regulatory Pushback

Libra received immediate pushback from regulators around the world who expressed concerns over privacy and the potential challenge to various nation’s monetary sovereignty. As a result, just one month after the project was announced, Facebook assured that Libra would not launch until all regulatory concerns were fully addressed. Facebook executives proceeded to go through a series of hearings and meetings with US Congress and various governments in an attempt to alleviate regulatory concerns.

In September 2019, it was reported that the Libra reserve basket would consist of 50% US dollars, 18% Euro, 14% Japanese Yen, 11% Pound sterling and 7% Singaporean dollars. This US friendly composition wasn’t enough to quell anxieties and regulatory pressures persisted. In October 2019, PayPal became the first company to walk away from the Libra Association, with several other high profile founding members following suit, including Visa and Mastercard.

In January 2020, it was reported that the Libra Association was weighing a shift to a multiple stablecoin framework with each backed by their own individual currencies. This differed from their initial approach of a single stablecoin backed by a composite basket of fiat currencies.

Libra’s Revised Plan

On April 16, 2020 Libra unveiled its revised plan. As rumored, Libra transitioned to a framework featuring multiple single-currency stablecoins, in addition to its multi-currency Libra coin. Under the new model, each single-currency stablecoin will be backed by its respective fiat currency and government securities – i.e. the US dollar stablecoin will be backed by a reserve of US dollars and US government securities.

The multi-currency Libra coin on the other hand would be a composite of some of the single-currency stablecoins available on the Libra network. This differs from the initial proposal for a standalone currency backed by a basket of various fiat currencies and government securities sitting in a single reserve. The new Libra Coin proposal looks less like a currency and more like the SDRs maintained by the IMF. Libra Coins represent a claim on stablecoins held in various reserves within the network. This is one step removed from representing a direct claim on multiple fiat currencies and government securities sitting in the Libra Reserve.

According to the revised white paper, these changes were made to address policymaker’s key concerns. The revised plan further includes a more comprehensive compliance framework, the abandonment of plans to transition to a permissionless system and plans for strengthening the Libra Reserve design. Also to the delight of policymakers, t will allow for easier integration of central bank digital currencies to replace corresponding single-currency stablecoins.

According to the head of policy for the Libra Association, Dante Disparte, the Libra network is working toward a late 2020 launch.

Go Deeper

To learn more about Libra’s roadmap, regulatory history, team and participating organizations, the Libra Coin, launch, consensus and emission, underlying technology and governance, read our full Libra profile page.
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