Facebook’s Libra gets new chief; warnings sounded on PPP loan forgiveness

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New face of Libra

Facebook has named Stuart Levey, HSBC’s chief legal officer and a former U.S. Treasury undersecretary, to lead its Libra cryptocurrency project. “The hire of a prominent banking industry attorney with a background in compliance reflects the association’s efforts to overhaul its plans for the digital currency in ways that will make them more palatable to governments around the world,” the Wall Street Journal said.

“One of the things I intend to do when I start at the Libra Association is to review in detail the current plans that are in place . . . for financial crime compliance, and frankly, all of the other critical controls,” Levey told the Financial Times.

“His appointment is an important step in Libra’s bid to operate independently from Facebook, whose initial stewardship of the project heightened concerns from global watchdogs, central banks and politicians over the proposed currency’s potential to be used for illicit purposes,” the FT said.

Italian blues

UniCredit “warned that its strategic overhaul might be delayed by two years or more as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the Italian economy and pushed its largest bank by assets to a steep first-quarter loss.” CEO Jean Pierre Mustier told the FT “that he did not think the bank would be able to fully implement its new plan — unveiled in December — until economic growth and group profits rebounded to pre-crisis levels, likely in 2022 or 2023.”

But UniCredit isn’t the only Italian bank with troubles, the Journal says. “Italy’s lenders came into the crisis as one of the weaker parts of the European banking landscape, still suffering from some of the effects of the region’s sovereign debt crisis and struggling with sluggish economic growth and low rates. After two months of lockdown imposed by the Italian government, uncertainty hangs over how the induced economic coma and its aftermath will translate into losses for local banks as the companies they lend to inevitably default on loan repayments.”

Wall Street Journal

Open question

Digital payments companies PayPal and Square “both benefited and suffered some setbacks from Covid-19, in radically different ways,” the Journal says. “This is potentially an epic moment for the emergence of digital payments, but it’s too soon for either of the biggest players to declare victory.”

Financial Times

Calls for change

Deka Investment, one of Wirecard’s top 10 shareholders, “has called for the dismissal of chief executive Markus Braun, raising the pressure on chairman Thomas Eichelmann after shares in the German payments group collapsed 38% in a week. The sell-off, which has wiped more than €5 billion from Wirecard’s stock market value, was triggered by the results of KPMG’s special audit into its accounting and business practices, [which] said it could not verify that large parts of Wirecard’s reported revenue were real and disclosed it ran into obstacles during a six-month investigation.”

“Deka, which holds a 1.4% stake in the company, is the first long-only investor to explicitly call for the chief executive’s dismissal.” That follows Tuesday’s call by Union Investment, which owns 4% of the German payments company, that Wirecard “needs an organizational and personal renewal” and “untainted, external managers” on its executive board.

The time for excuses is over. The company tried to whitewash the problems for too long. Now deeds are more important than words,” Andreas Mark, Union Investment’s fund manager, told the FT.

New York Times

Not easy to walk away

Small businesses that took out Paycheck Protection Program loans assuming that they would be forgiven may be in for a rude awakening, the Times reports, with the Consumer Bankers Association warning that loan forgiveness is the “next shoe to drop” for the program. If not followed correctly, the loans “threaten to saddle borrowers with huge debt loads, as banks begin the tricky task of proving the loans they extended actually met the government’s strict and shifting terms.”

“With thousands of businesses preparing to ask for their eight-week loans to be forgiven, banks and borrowers are just now beginning to realize how complicated the program may turn out to be. Along with lawmakers, they are pushing the Treasury Department, which is overseeing the loan fund, to make forgiveness requirements easier to meet.”

Elsewhere

Antisocial distancing

A Boston-area man was arrested Tuesday after he allegedly flashed a gun at other customers at a Citizens Bank branch who complained that he “refused to adhere to social distancing policies. When the man was asked to move away, he pointed [the gun] at others in line,” according to a Boston TV station.

Sticky wicket

Environmental activists sprayed “fake oil” on Barclays’ headquarters building in London in their effort to force the bank to divest from fossil fuels. The bank’s chairman said the company “can and should play a leading role” in tackling climate change, Reuters reported. “The size and scale of our business means that we can really help accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy,” Nigel Higgins said as the bank held its annual investor meeting.

“Barclays has faced growing criticism over its environmental credentials, with some shareholders demanding radical reforms to its Big Oil and fossil fuel financing policies.”

Quotable

“Virtually every small business borrower believes that this will be forgiven. They took it out assuming that it would be a grant but it’s not — you have to abide by very complex rules and regulations on how this is spent.” — Paul Merski, a lobbyist for the Independent Community Bankers of America, commenting on the difficulty small businesses may face in getting PPP loans forgiven.

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