Institutions Haven’t Given Up on Cryptocurrency

The price of bitcoin took a plunge last week and over the weekend, and took other digital currencies down with it. Trading volume is down and cryptocurrency miners — the outfits that solve complex equations to generate new digital coins — aren’t mining with the same enthusiasm.

Headlines have not been kind to crypto’s recent downslide. The professionals at CoinDesk’s Consensus: Invest conference in New York on Tuesday were a little more optimistic, albeit with caveats.

Kicking off a discussion on institutionalizing crypto, Michael Casey, chairman of the advisory board at CoinDesk, made note of Bitcoin’s current price, well below $4,000. He asked his panel whether price matters.

Kelly Loeffler, CEO of bitcoin futures trading platform Bakkt, said despite the headlines, her answer to whether digital assets will survive is an “unequivocal” yes. She said the main problem is missing infrastructure and lack of use cases.

Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, Inc., or ICE, said he was “skeptical” of the price. But he also said investors need a price discovery contract they can have confidence in.

Loeffler added that institutions need institutional security in order to trade, namely a mechanism for discovering price free of manipulation.

Enter Bakkt.

Bakkt, which ICE built, announced earlier this month that it was delaying the launch of its platform until January 24, 2019. The announcement came just one day after bitcoin and the market as a whole saw the beginning of its latest slide, but Loeffler, in a post on Medium, said the primary reasons for the delay were regulatory and that more work was to be done.

During the panel, Casey asked why the launch of Bakkt’s platform was pushed back, to which Loeffler said they had put out “an ambitious timeline” to launch this year. She said in talking to institutions and getting them through onboarding, they needed more time to get it right.

“We think it’s a positive indicator of the interest,” she said.

Loeffler said Bakkt is designed to remove headline risks, as there is a lot of leverage in the system with a lot of people moving back and forth between protocols and exchanges.

Sprecher said regulatory oversight is what gives investors confidence. He said trust in crypto relies on math, but math can be defeated, and that use of clearinghouses and other infrastructure can manage “day-to-day problems.”

Loeffler said real opportunities can come from stability.

“Use cases are absolutely critical to this, and that’s really what this technology will benefit from,” she said.

Sprecher said regulators need to move faster to acknowledge the technology and that the establishment of ETFs and other investment vehicles are needed for crypto. But he also noted that regulators are used to seeing infrastructure and institutions that don’t really exist in the crypto scene.

Casey asked whether the libertarian, anarchic dream of crypto was over, to which Sprecher said there is no utopia where the government won’t get involved in matters that deal with people’s money and net worth.

Loeffler said Bitcoin is uniquely situated for participation by larger financial institutions because it has been recognized by the government.

Bakkt is starting with bitcoin only. In her Medium post, Loeffler explained bitcoin accounts for “over half of total crypto market capitalization and has been deemed to be a commodity, and its derivatives are regulated in the US by the CFTC.”

“As the world’s most liquid and widely distributed cryptocurrency, and where we’ve seen the most customer demand, bitcoin’s profile creates a liquid product on which to build a futures contract,” she continued. “We’ll consider additional contracts as the landscape evolves and as we receive additional customer feedback about what they want and need.”

During the panel, Loeffler said bitcoin has already proved its durability and that Bakkt’s job will be to help drive utilization.

Sprecher said there are other tokens that may be more practical for certain uses but that it’s not necessarily about being the best but being the broadest and most widely accepted. And for whatever reason, he said, bitcoin has become that for crypto.

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