Monday, October 4, 2021

Amazon and Apple's Eye-Catching Job Offers: Experts In Cryptocurrencies And Alternative Payments Are Sought

Amazon posted an eye-catching job opening this summer. The company is looking for an "experienced product manager to develop Amazon's digital currency and blockchain strategy and roadmap". It is not the only major tech company interested in this type of profile. Apple posted two months earlier on its website a similar vacancy: a business development manager focused on "alternative payments" (anything other than cash or card) is needed. Both companies officially deny their intention to make the leap into cryptocurrencies, either by accepting them as a means of payment or by issuing their own cryptocurrencies. The moves they are making in the human resources area, however, show that they are at least testing their potential.

The consequences for the global economy of Amazon or Apple signing up for cryptocurrencies could be unpredictable. They are not just any two companies: the former has revolutionized online sales; the latter is the world's largest by market capitalization (about $2.3 trillion, with Spain's GDP being 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 halfway around the world.

In the job description offered by Amazon, posted yesterday on the corporate website, it is specified that the successful candidate will use his or her knowledge of "blockchain, distributed ledger technology, central bank digital currencies and cryptocurrencies" to study the "capabilities that should be developed, lead the product vision and 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 at Amazon and AWS (its cloud services division) to develop the roadmap" and "launch the strategy."

The announcement sparked a torrent of speculation. A British online media even published a few days later that Amazon had decided to start accepting payments in bitcoins by the end of 2021. The company has denied those rumors. "Despite our interest in this area, speculation about our specific plans with cryptocurrencies is not true," a company spokesperson stresses. "We believe that the future will be built on new technologies that enable modern, fast and inexpensive payments. We remain focused on exploring what this might look like for customers shopping on Amazon," he explains by way of justification for the vacancy, on which they decline to make any further comment.

Apple, for its part, is looking for someone with proven experience in "alternative and emerging payment solutions". Your main task will be to "establish agreements and business models, define implementation paradigms, identify key players and manage relationships with strategic alternative payment partners". A job that seems to go beyond market testing and that, as specified in the announcement, active at least until last week, would be developed at the Cupertino headquarters. The company preferred not to comment on the nature of the position offered.

The apple company already has in place payment systems such as Apple Pay (mobile payments), Apple Card (physical credit card) and Apple Cash (money transfers). While the company's official stance is that it is not considering accepting bitcoin payments for the time being, they have never ruled out doing so in the future. "We are following cryptocurrencies. We think they're interesting and we think they have long-term potential," Apple Pay vice president Jennifer Bailey told CNN in 2019.

Facebook's failed venture

That two of the leading tech companies are looking for executives with expertise in cryptocurrencies is yet another sign of the interest in these new means of payment. Amazon and Apple are not the first to move into this field. Facebook was the one that made the most noise, and perhaps that is precisely why it had to put on the brakes. The possibility that a private company that accumulates some 2.7 billion users would put into circulation its own currency, Libra, that would escape public control caused panic in the chancelleries 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 "for possible anti-competitive practices that could be generated by the Libra Association, especially in view of the information that will be exchanged and the use that could be made of consumer data". In September, the European Central Bank warned that Facebook's cryptocurrency could jeopardize EU monetary policy.

Then U.S. President Donald Trump didn't mince words either. "If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they should be subject to all banking regulations, just like other banks, both domestic and international," he tweeted. The SEC, the U.S. financial regulator, began looking into whether Libra had a place in the legal system as early as July. The U.S. Federal Reserve also saw no clear fit.

The regulators' misgivings caused Facebook's main partners in this venture, including PayPal, Ebay, Visa, Mastercard and Vodafone, to fall out of the project as early as the beginning of 2020. Facebook then decided to change tack: Libra would no longer be a cryptocurrency, but rather a means of payment linked to already established currencies. A sort of PayPal.

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