Is digital currency Libra set to become Facebook’s Midland Bank moment?

Readers with (very) long memories may recall that in 1987 the Saatchi brothers, then running the world’s biggest agency group, announced their intention to take over the UK’s Midland Bank, one of the biggest at the time. The Midland (now part of HSBC) had got into trouble with an American venture.

Whether or not this was ever a serious intent is open to debate. The Saatchis were adept at latching on to any notion, however improbable, if it would gain publicity. But, at the time, they were a big international force (although the empire was under pressure) and the notion was taken seriously – and ridiculed.

All of a sudden Saatchi & Saatchi didn’t look like the agency every client wanted in their corner, it looked a business run by fantasists. And the end was nigh.

Will the same be said of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and his plan to launch global digital currency Libra? Zuckerberg’s ostensible purpose is to connect the world although some might say it’s to control the world. Facebook’s very own digital currency would look more like the latter than the former and regulators are already queueing up to say, hang on a minute we’re going to have a say in this. Some will be thinking, no you don’t.

Financial regulators, mostly from the banking fraternity, think only they are capable of running the world banking system even though there’s plenty of evidence that greedy bankers often make a spectacular mess of it. The Midland came unstuck in California all those years ago, RBS’s crazy expansion and some of the evil antics at HBOS in the UK just before the banking crash make the Midland’s travails small beer. HBOS was the Halifax building society until the bankers took over.

But the Saatchi brothers failed with the Midland notion because central bankers and others wouldn’t accept for a second that skill in branding and advertising was enough to run a big bank.

Similarly they’re equally un-keen on Zuckerberg, who is easy to depict as a megalomaniac, controlling a vast, alternative global currency.

The wolves are at Facebook’s door, demanding that the company is broken up, as they are with Google. His Libra plan may have brought this significantly closer.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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