Banks Still Don’t Trust Bitcoins

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Ostill“Blockchain — good, bitcoin — bad” has been quite a theme in financial circles recently.

While many recognize bitcoin’s cost- and time-cutting benefits, big FIs in particular still seem unlikely to trust this new currency. When banks look into improving their payment rails, using bitcoin is not on top of the agenda, Julio Faura, head of R&D and innovation at Banco Santander, said during a panel at Consensus 2016 conference this week.

I guess the whole bitcoin world is seen a little bit different from a bank. It’s a great self-maintaining experiment, and it’s an inspiration. But when you try all these things in reality and work with the existent rails and the existing gateways, bitcoin gets a little bit small. It’s better to go for more fit-for-purpose tokens, like Ripple is doing with XRPs. Otherwise, you are going to have a lot of people with different backgrounds, different users, different levels of legality coexisting in the same space. So, we favor the implementation of bitcoin for particular implementations that are fit for particular purposes, and then try to see how these things could inter-operate using different inter-ledger protocols. 

So why use bitcoin at all? Liquidity is the prime factor, Marwan Fozley, chief executive at Align Commerce said during the panel. “Liquidity has been the biggest issue in the market,” he said. “The reality is bitcoin is liquid enough that you can do transactions, and at the end of the day that’s what we need today.” The blockchain technology behind bitcoin also allows for a more direct customer service experience, since it allows for no agent involvement, Fozley added.

The prospect of no middlemen, however, is not viewed as positively from a bank’s standpoint, Santander’s Faura said. “The promise of bitcoin is that you do not have to trust agents. But if you remove the need to trust, you remove the ability to have people you can go to when you  have problems,” he said. “If everything is over-eliminated, and depends on cryptography, instead of a trusted institution, it’s a whole new world for regulators, and I am not sure the space is ready for it.”

Bitcoin has been in the media spotlight in the past week, as the inventor of the currency stepped forward — or not.

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