BlackRock, the invest management firm managing more than $6.28 trillion in various assets, has recently been increasingly receptive towards virtual currencies. But Larry Fink, the company’s CEO, made it clear at a recent conference that they would not offer a cryptocurrency exchange-traded fund (ETF) until the “industry becomes ‘legitimate.’”
Somewhat ironically, the very independence from traditional financial institutions and structures that has defined bitcoin since its creation is hindering its continued push towards the mainstream. CNBC reported that Fink, in comments made during the New York Times Dealbook Conference on November 1, said that further growth was necessary before BlackRock would consider a crypto ETF.
“It will ultimately have to be backed by a government,” explained Fink, citing a need to mitigate the risks associated with crypto’s fundamental anonymity – its potential for use in tax evasion, money laundering, purchasing illegal goods, and other illicit activities. “…Right now, the world doesn't need a store of wealth unless you need that store of wealth for things you should not be doing,” said Fink.
BlackRock’s stance is unsurprising given the federal government’s tentative relationship with digital currencies. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been under pressure to regulate an environment that, until recently, was commonly described as a Wild West. The SEC formally rejected requests to list nine cryptocurrency funds in August, citing the failure of each to show they could prevent fraud (though one commissioner, Hester Peirce, promised a review of the decision.)
Concerns about market surveillance and manipulation have dominated the SEC’s thinking for as long as they have been dealing with cryptocurrency, though they remain open to the possibility of an ETF. A November 5 deadline for commentary on potential rule changes related to the nine bitcoin ETFs has come and gone, with an official ruling to come later.
While Fink’s message may be disappointing to some crypto supporters, he added his name to the growing list of business and financial leaders who are bullish on blockchain, calling himself a “huge believer” in the technology. Fink did not cite any specific ways BlackRock was or would be using the technology, but he predicted that “the biggest use for blockchain will be in mortgages, mortgage applications, mortgage ownership, anything that's labored with paper.”
For now, crypto ETFs remain out of reach. But recent developments – not least of which, the openness of high-level business and government officials to the idea – means that, with the right set of regulations, what was once mere fantasy may sooner than later become an investing reality.
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