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It’s been a long-running narrative in the crypto scene. “Institutional Investors are flocking to ‘maturing’ cryptocurrency market,” according to Bitcoinist. Yet that was back in April, and since then the price of Bitcoin has been cut in half, theft from exchanges is rife, and recently, things have gotten worse. On top of that, over the weekend, the SEC decided to again delay the decision on a major proposal for a Bitcoin ETF–an investment tool for institutional users. Are they coming or aren't they? This theme was at the center of an intense debate at “Digital Assets 2019: Back to the Future,” organized by crypto exchange Huobi.
Steve Kelso, head of crypto-focused merchant bank Galaxy Digital Europe, said, “I see a great message of hope in the institutional adoption that’s happening right here, right now.” Galaxy Digital has lost some $136 million in the previous six months from its crypto holdings, so the bullish sentiment is probably more selfish than seeing into the future.
But, there is some evidence that big money is moving in, or at least, companies are building the tools they would eventually use. Crypto wallet Coinbase quietly opened its over-the-counter trading desk last week–where high net-worth individuals can purchase large amounts of Bitcoin. Crypto exchange Poloniex has also opened its trading services for institutional clients. So the infrastructure is ready and waiting but even if we build it, will they come?
Simon Taylor, a former blockchain lead at Barclays and co-founder of fintech consultants 11:FS, isn’t so sure. “‘The institutions are coming’ is a great story but I can introduce you to some people who were on the inside who have now left, it’s all bullshit.” He spoke on his experience at Barclays where they would announce their interest in a crypto-based product which the media immediately assumed they were diving deep into the industry. He argued the banks are a lot more sceptical than is made out in the media.
Despite the uncertainty, Morgan Creek Digital Assets, an institutional manager focused on cryptocurrencies is willing to bet that the institutional narrative will play out. It has offered a $1 million bet that a basket of cryptocurrencies will outperform the S&P 500 over the next ten years. It mimics a famous bet by Warren Buffet on the performance of the S&P 500 against a group of hedge funds. Unsurprisingly, no one has taken the investment firm up on its offer thanks to the 73 per cent drop in Bitcoin’s value in the past 12 months. Buffett’s original bet was designed to highlight how hedge funds were overhyped. Morgan Creek Digital’s meanwhile, feels more like a confidence trick designed to pull unsuspecting investors into crypto’s blood-soaked waters.