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Banks Into Crypto: What Does It Mean to the Industry?

Goldman Sachs Group plans to restart its cryptocurrency trading desk in March, the source related to the bank recently reported. The multinational investment bank suspended crypto trading activity back in 2018.

The Goldman Sachs Group is one of the world’s biggest investment banks by revenue and a critical market maker for US Treasury securities.

Goldman Sachs Back on the Crypto Track

According to the source, Goldman Sachs will relaunch trading of cryptocurrency futures and Non-Deliverable Forwards (NDF). The Wall Street giant simultaneously considers the possibility to open its Bitcoin exchange-traded fund and offer cryptocurrency custody.

Goldman Sachs was one of the first traditional banks ready to offer cryptocurrency trading operations back in 2018, while many other financial institutions remained skeptical of crypto.

It backed off from its plans later that year because of the unclear crypto regulatory framework. Bank executives stated that many decisions needed to be taken on the broader political level for traditional financial institutions to start dealing with digital currencies.

Why now?

Store of value

Cryptocurrencies established as a new asset class and investment alternative for institutional clients within the past year.

The global pandemic shook the economies in 2020. Central banks cut interest rates; governments initiated stimulus measures that led to increasing inflation.

Conservative Wall Street found out that keeping amounts of fiat currencies became risky and damaging and was forced to look for more profitable investment options. Traditional financial companies added cryptos to their portfolios as a store of value asset class.

Private corporations like Tesla and MicroStrategy poured billions of dollars into Bitcoin, followed by multiple other companies with their hundreds of millions.

Growing prices

Digital currencies, especially Bitcoin, generate much higher returns compared to other investment assets. The leading crypto has risen nearly 480% within the past 12 months. The second-largest Ethereum (ETH) showed even higher (almost 600%) results.

Meanwhile, gold fixed the 24% annual growth, DJIA increased by almost 70%, and the Nikkei index grew more by more than 76% within the past 12 months.

Zeitgeist

The United States Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) permitted the federally regulated banks and financial institutions to provide cryptocurrency custody services back in July 2020.

Financial asset custody is a trillion-worth business. The crypto custody services mean new clients and new streams of revenue. Banks cannot afford to ignore the opportunity. For Goldman Sachs, it could be the logical step to conform to the zeitgeist and remain competitive.

Especially when the Bank of New York Mellon, the oldest US bank and one of the world’s largest asset managers, disclosed it is ready to start crypto custody services later this year.

Banks into crypto custody: what to expect?

Increased competition

Custodian banks hold their client’s financial assets for safekeeping. They operate trillions dollar-worth of assets under management and get paid by charging fees for their services.

It’s a big business, which has even bigger potential to grow with institutional investors creating new demand. When the new institutional-grade crypto custodians (like traditional banks) enter the market, they will definitely take their share from current crypto-focused custodians like Coinbase or BitGo. The industry may potentially expect increased competition, usually resulting in better services and lower fees.

Higher security

Over $3 billion of digital currencies were stolen by hackers from cryptocurrency wallets back in 2020 — around $112.12 million through a single hack.

Digital wallets are a profitable target, and their cybersecurity one of the biggest challenges for crypto custodians. Institutional-grade crypto custody providers will have to face the higher cybersecurity requirements and look for innovative security measures and technologies that could gradually contribute to a more secure crypto space in general.

Opportunities for infrastructure providers

Since financial institutions have the OCC permission, there should be no surprise that they will eventually set up a crypto custody service. The process, however, requires time and specific knowledge.

As not all traditional banks have their in-house experts on how to handle the new service properly, the crypto industry (and especially infrastructure providers) may expect multiple acquisitions and partnerships with the traditional financial entities.

Adoption of leading cryptos

Retail clients and institutional investors are showing their interest in digital currencies. And gradually, traditional banks will open for them too. But since they are highly cautious about challenges related to cryptocurrencies (like volatility or regulatory uncertainty), their shift towards digital currencies may be limited to a few biggest cryptos like Bitcoin or Ethereum. As this happens, it may have a positive impact on the prices of the leading cryptos.

On the Flipside

  • The extreme price fluctuations are common for Bitcoin and other cryptos, high volatility leading many investors to remain cautious or skeptical.
  • Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein warned that regulators could act against Bitcoin if it continues to grow.
  • Bitcoin established its narrative as a store of value but is not yet fully considered a mainstream investment form. Younger generations are onto crypto, but the majority still need encouragement and education on digital currencies.
  • Neobanks are the growing financial sector, expected to increase their market share in business accounts until 2028 massively. Neobanks are already replacing banks in terms of popularity between younger generations.

The US biggest banks and their stance on cryptos

JPMorgan

JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States and the 5th largest on the planet by total assets, accepted clients from Coinbase and Gemini crypto exchanges since May 2020 but did not hold transactions in cryptocurrencies itself.

The bank might be soothing its position towards digital assets, though. The industry insiders say that it has issued a request for information (RFI) to explore digital currency custody in January 2021, although the bank has not officially confirmed this.

Bank’s CEO Daniel Pinto said a few weeks ago, he is confident that institutional demand for Bitcoin will spike in the coming months, and JPMorgan will have no choice but to get involved.

The banking giant tested its own JPM Coin last autumn for international payments between corporate customers.

Wells Fargo

The third biggest US-based financial giant Wells Fargo Bank has banned its users from purchasing Bitcoins with their credit cards back in 2018. Since then, the bank has been cautious about digital assets mainly due to the crypto space’s regulatory uncertainty.

Last month, however, Wells Fargo invested $5 million into a crypto intelligence start-up, which helps banks identify crypto exchanges that comply with strict regulatory rules and detect illicit crypto transactions.

Citi Group

Citi Group, one of the world’s top investment banks, recently triggered the crypto industry to report that Bitcoin could become a “currency of choice” for international trade.

The bank hasn’t been vocal about cryptocurrencies for years. However, its CEO Michael Corbat revealed last December that Citi is collaborating with governments worldwide to help issue their own Central Bank Digital Coins (CBDCs).

This article is for information purposes only and should not be considered trading or investment advice. Nothing herein shall be construed to be financial legal or tax advice. Trading Forex, cryptocurrencies, and CFDs poses a considerable risk of loss

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Author

Simona is a fintech journalist and content editor at DailyCoin Academy, which focuses on educating new crypto investors. She entered the crypto space in early 2018, got burned, but discovered a passion for trading, and now it’s her hobby. Simona covers crypto and blockchain-related topics and takes a deeper look at what lies behind the latest industry trends.