Asia’s richest blockchain fan just won a deal with Facebook

Alibaba’s Jack Ma has been knocked off his perch as Asia’s richest person. The new incumbent is India’s Mukesh Ambani, chairman of sprawling oil-to-retail conglomerate Reliance Industries. On Wednesday, Reliance’s telecoms arm, Jio, received a whopping $5.7 billion from Facebook, in a deal that will change the game for digital payments in India.

The investment—Facebook’s biggest since it bought WhatsApp—saw Reliance stocks surge 10%—thus booting Ma off the top spot in the rich list. But it’s the long-term implications, particularly for digital payments, blockchain and crypto, that are most intriguing. 

Under the agreement, Facebook’s WhatsApp will help India’s mom-and-pop stores— almost 30 million of them—process digital payments. Ambani will gain a payment platform for his e-commerce unit and startup, JioMart, while Facebook gets a market with a population of 1.3 billion people as a testing ground for its payment services, and possibly even its digital currency initiative Libra.

Facebook wants to become “the Amazon of India”

Facebook and Jio both have an interest in helping India’s small businesses go digital, which is also a key goal for Libra.

The social media giant has identified the Indian market as one that’s primed for digital disruption. India is already its largest market (260 million users,) and also dominates Facebook-owned WhatsApp (400 million users). But it doesn’t bring in anything like as much revenue as North America. 

The new deal, which gives Facebook 10% of Jio, will enable the US company to bring a big boost to digital commerce to India. It could, in fact, become the country’s Amazon.

Together, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Ambani can overcome a common issue. Both have e-payments services—JioMoney and WhatsApp Payments—which have failed to take off in a big way, so far. But their combined force, and access to massive reserves of data, will make a much bigger impression in a crowded payments…

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