The tin-foil-hatted nuts at BusinessWeek explain how and why Facebook will become the largest bank in the United States. (Perhaps most disturbing is the thought of a universal currency called ‘the zuckerberg’.)
Becoming a financial powerhouse would help Facebook avoid the fate of many once-popular networks. AOL, Friendster, Second Life, and MySpace all dreamed of growing forever, too. To survive, Facebook must become more than glorified e-mail. Sharing photos and gossip with friends might make Facebook hard to leave. But upload your checking account and Facebook may just be forever.
Nongamers may have missed Facebook’s clever foray into the world of “virtual currency,” where Facebook Credits cost 10 cents each and can be exchanged for game points or cartoony gifts. Those dimes are adding up—the U.S. market for virtual goods will reach $2.1 billion in 2011. Facebook’s currency, while just part of that market, is getting real. You can now purchase gift cards for Facebook Credits at Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy.
So why couldn’t Facebook use them as real currency, too? In fact, why couldn’t Facebook become your bank?
Facebook today both owns the Web—where 500 million-plus users now spend more time there than on any other site—and is a dominant app on smartphones. Beyond this customer base, Facebook has embedded “Like” buttons on almost every major website, becoming the only real product praise utility. Facebook has persuaded large retailers to build sites, called Facebook Pages, within its platform. Facebook already has a currency, its Credits. And Facebook recently expanded its monetary systems with Facebook Payments, purportedly for paying app developers. But the incorporation documents state that Payments is “organized for the purpose of transacting any or all lawful business.” Hmmm.
If only one of every five Facebook users adopted Credits to buy things, Facebook would be as big as PayPal. And once Facebook makes us comfortable with Credits, it could then transition to a “traditional” global bank, storing your financial assets like gem points in Bejeweled Blitz.
More than a billion-dollar prize, the finance industry would also be a brilliant defensive move for Facebook. The company’s main challenge is that it may be overvalued, based on investors hoping for future growth, while current revenue models do not scale exponentially.