The rally in the Bitcoin
The institutions, venture capital firms, and angel investors place their bets on the future by investing in early-stage companies, and where they place their money is a sign of what they expect to happen. In many cases, the investments manifest the future because companies that are well-funded early tend to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Today institutions are investing in well-regulated companies with experienced leaders at the helm. The quiet backroom discussions are about supporting the firms that are going to work within the established financial system, and to facilitate the realization of the potential for the asset class. The conversation has changed.
Very young entrepreneurs without material financial services experience are no longer easily raising gobs of money to start fanciful new businesses, and investors are recognizing that regulation impacts all aspects of financial services – although perhaps that realization was a little slower in coming and hitting a little harder for some.
Six years ago, I left my career as a Managing Director working for global investment banks, and cofounded LevelField Financial to serve customers who are interested in the digital asset class. The vision remains straightforward: vertically integrate the leading customer service and user experience of a fintech firm with the trust, financial strength, and regulatory advantages of a full-service, FDIC insured, U.S. chartered bank.
Whenever people interact with cryptocurrency and the financial system, they must use the services of an intermediary. Banks in the USA are arguably the safest institutions for consumers. Since the introduction of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in 1934, not a single penny of an insured deposit has been lost from bank failure. Digital asset class participants should not have to rely upon firms that have not earned that same level of trust.
In order to reach the potential represented by digital assets there first must be closer integration with the established financial services industry. Market participants need seamless and easy transitions between banking and the digital world. In areas that involve money, and particularly for companies that safeguard other people’s money, change must be through evolution and not revolution.
Along the way we have met company founders that also saw the potential of digital assets and had ideas to integrate digital assets and blockchain technology into mainstream financial services. They, too, left solid careers to build something new, and our experiences of the past few years are similar.
Today we are holding discussions with investors at every scale, and they are interested in companies like ours that are clearly operating within the regulatory framework. Compliance and adherence to best-practices are sought after attributes. The questions on almost every investor’s mind are now about regulations, and finally the investment community has moved to my company’s area of strength.
The early fundraising efforts were difficult. The single biggest question we received from investors in the crypto-community was “Why a bank?” For people not familiar with the asset class, the sentiment back then was reversed. Perhaps our experience was best represented by a question we received from the general counsel of a billionaire family. He derailed our pitch meeting and did not allow us to present our company because all he wanted to talk about was “Why Bitcoin?”
Today digital assets are a recognized financial asset class and are components of well-diversified portfolios of mainstream investors. The cryptocurrencies with the larger market capitalizations, like bitcoin and perhaps a few others, are perceived as a growing asset class with unique investment characteristics.
In 2018, I was physically spat upon by a young man (wearing expensive sneakers and trying desperately to look cool) for suggesting that cryptocurrency was an investment and will evolve to where it is today. He was horribly offended that I believed in a future for cryptocurrency that encompassed everyone. He believed that he should be allowed to do what he wanted. Crypto had no rules, so he had no responsibility to stay within the rules when taking other people’s money to grow his business. He wanted to get rich, and the establishment should leave him alone to do as he pleased. I sometimes wonder what became of him. Did he obtain his dreams of wealth, or did it all come crashing down?
Later that same year I gave an address at a large conference and spoke about the need to play by the rules. My talk was about the great potential for digital assets, and my concern that the asset class could not grow without ensuring that investors were protected. My worry was not about price volatility, but rather commonsense concerns about ensuring the strength of financial intermediaries.
History has taught us that regardless of the asset class, worrying about protection of customer assets and reducing the potential for bad actors to abscond with funds are legitimate concerns. I did not realize it at the time, but I was talking about some of the most well-known firms in the space. My fears were realized in the bankruptcies of firms such as FTX, Celsius, Quadriga, and the like. Back in 2018 my speech was met with derision and loud booing.
The cryptocurrency community is excited by the possibility of the listing of exchange traded funds (ETF) for bitcoin and other digital assets. Prior to creation and listing an ETF must receive permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and such permission has not yet been forthcoming. The mere fact that cryptocurrency market participants are waiting on regulatory developments is another sign that the market has evolved substantially. What must my sneaker-wearing friend be thinking?
The price of bitcoin recently hit a yearly high in the mid-thirty thousands, and with the rally volume is returning to the cash markets. This is no doubt a good thing for the asset class. Still. the best sign of the future of cryptocurrency is not found in the price action, but rather in the long-term investment activity in the supporting infrastructure.
The conversations in the back rooms suggest that the digital asset class is here to stay. We know, we are engaging in those investment discussions. The next generation of companies supporting the digital asset class will play by the rules and facilitate mass adoption. The positive sentiment is encouraging.
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