No, Facebook doesn't want to be your online bank. Not yet

One day Facebook may decide the time is ripe for a move into the world of financial transactions; for now, it's just a PowerPoint slide.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg James Martin/CNET

With more than 900 million monthly active users, the question is why Facebook wouldn't aspire to be an online bank? Given Mark Zuckerberg's ambitions to build out the platform to the point where social infuses as many aspects of our daily online existence as possible, it's hardly a radical notion.

So it was that a report surfaced earlier today to the effect that Facebook is working with Australia's Commonwealth Bank on a way to allow bank transactions "to third parties as well as Facebook friends through the social media channel." That inspired the usual scrum, but let's hold on before jumping to (inevitable) conclusions.

The story includes a couple of quotes from David Robinson, the director of global marketing solutions, U.S. financial services at Facebook. Participating at a panel last month before the Securities Industries and Financial Markets Association, Robinson said: "There are certain things, whether it's financial services, or banking where I don't necessarily want my friends to know exactly what I'm doing, right?...I want to be able to go in and have an experience with my adviser or my bank and have that be a one-on-one experience."

Read into that what you will but there's a world of difference between Robinson's response to a hypothetical and a headline claiming that Facebook wants to be your online bank. Here's the Commonwealth app in question. When I called Facebook, I got the same canned comment it sent to Fortune. "Facebook is a platform and a partnership company. We are supportive of brands and agencies, across industries, using the platform to better serve their customers."

Asked whether the company intended to move into online banking world, a Facebook spokesman declined comment. But sources say that the company is not doing anything of the sort -- at least for now. Yes, Facebook is working with several international banks that are building apps to interact with their customers. What the third parties do is their business. The point being that this remains a Commonwealth Bank story. Facebook is the platform, and so Commonwealth or any other institution would be using the same APIs and tools available to anyone else.

About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.

 

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