Institutional Heavyweights Enter Crypto 

The crypto market rallied after a US court ordered the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) to revoke its rejection of Grayscale’s Bitcoin spot ETF application. While this ruling does not necessarily guarantee a spot Bitcoin ETF approval, it certainly strengthens the ongoing industry efforts aimed at advancing institutional exposure to crypto assets.

Last week, the crypto market hit a multi-year low in trading volume, but it looks like many high-profile financial institutions continue to strategically position themselves for what lies ahead.

One JPMorgan analyst recently suggested there may be limited downside for the crypto market in the near term. There are several factors supporting this analysis, given that most long-position liquidations have been completed and the market has absorbed a substantial amount of bad news. This includes Elon Musk’s SpaceX writing off some of its Bitcoin holdings, the US regulators appeal against the Ripple Case ruling, and the delay of pending Bitcoin ETF approvals. Arguably, these developments may have triggered a fresh wave of uncertainty, causing the market correction.

Yet, the recent news surrounding Grayscale appears to have brought some relief to the market. Major traditional players like BlackRock and VanEck are also pursuing their own Bitcoin spot ETFs, Jacobi Asset Management listed Europe’s first spot Bitcoin ETF on the Euronext stock exchange, and Charles Schwab-backed cryptocurrency exchange, EDX Markets, launched just two months ago. Meanwhile, Singapore’s financial regulator released its new stablecoin framework and several European financial institutions have obtained and/or are actively pursuing crypto licences.

This silver lining should encourage us to look beyond the negative mainstream narrative and ask ourselves: What is all this preparation for?

Spot Bitcoin ETFs – BlackRock, Grayscale and co.

Grayscale’s favourable court ruling was indeed a positive step for the crypto industry, driving a significant spike in token prices and the market’s interest in spot Bitcoin ETFs. However, a correction soon followed after the SEC’s recent decision to postpone all ETF applications, including those from BlackRock and Fidelity, until October, could be seen as the US regulator necessitating more time to evaluate these recent developments. If Grayscale wins its case, it could set a precedent for Wall Street giants to demand equal treatment, thereby limiting the US regulators’ ability to reject spot Bitcoin ETF applications “arbitrarily and capriciously”, as stated by Judge Neomi Rao. All of this remains to be seen, of course.

BlackRock’s ETF filing has also played a substantial role in recent months, including the supportive statements from BlackRock’s CEO Lary Rink, regarding crypto. The market also anticipates an approval, considering the world’s largest asset manager’s successful track record of only one rejection out of 575 ETF applications. Other institutional players like Ark Invest, Invesco, Valkyrie, and Wisdom Tree, among others, are also awaiting approval. Added together, their assets under management (AUM) total over an impressive USD 15 trillion.

Two weeks ago, London-based Jacobi Asset Management listed Europe’s first spot Bitcoin ETF on the Euronext stock exchange, with Fidelity Digital Assets and trading firm Flow Traders responsible for custody of the fund and market making, respectively.

The significant of these spot Bitcoin ETFs, if approved, lies in their ability to bring in substantial funds and bridge the gap between traditional market investors and the crypto asset ecosystem. Since ETFs are regulated financial products, they provide familiarity to institutional investors, removing the complexities of things like private key and wallet management. Therefore, investors can access Bitcoin exposure without holding the asset itself, as the ETF simply tracks Bitcoin’s price which acts as the underlying asset. These financial products enable institutions to meet custody and storage requirements, not to mention the fact that an ETF is a marketable security.

Institutional-backed cryptocurrency exchanges are emerging

Another institutional parallel is the recent launch of regulated cryptocurrency exchange EDX Markets. The exchange went live less than two months ago with the backing of Wall Street giants like Charles Schwab and Citadel Securities. The exchange began trading Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash.

EDX Market separates itself from other cryptocurrency exchanges by adopting a “non-custodial” approach, meaning it does not directly hold customer assets but uses a regulated, third-party custodian. Anchorage, the only federally chartered crypto bank in the US, is set to provide custody for EDX Market’s upcoming clearinghouse business scheduled to launch later this year.

It is interesting to see these developments unfold, even in the face of broader macro uncertainties and a predominantly negative media narrative on the general crypto market.

Financial institutions are being granted crypto licences

In recent months, various European financial institutions, including Société Générale, Credit Agricole and Santander, have been granted crypto licences, while Deutsche Bank has also applied for one. Société Générale’s crypto subsidiary, SG-Forge, became the first to obtain a crypto licence from France’s market regulator. Another noteworthy development is the crypto arm of Japanese investment giant Nomura, which recently secured a crypto licence in Dubai. These licences grant permission for services like crypto custody, trading and sales. 

Whether driven by client demand, diversification opportunities with a new asset class, or the desire to attract a new generation of customers, these actions simply demonstrate their commitment to crypto, and their readiness for the future.

Fair market environment

The entry of institutional heavyweights into the crypto ecosystem can bring about risks as well. For instance, institutional-backed Bitcoin ETFs require customers to trust the provider with securely storing the Bitcoin, introducing third-party and mismanagement risks. Meanwhile, market leaders could potentially gain a significant influence over the market if not regulated accordingly.

Still, trusted institutional participants can contribute to the much-need improvements of the broader crypto asset economy, like bringing in robust safeguards, risk management systems, customer protection rules and substantial capital for mainstream adoption.

In doing so, they can provide the necessary credibility and stability the market has long been striving for.

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