Bakkt, a bitcoin futures exchange and digital asset platform, launched its Bitcoin futures contracts today. Bakkt users can now enter into daily and monthly futures contracts: Agreements wherein the buyer of a contract bets that the price of Bitcoin will go up or down by a certain date, and pockets–or pays–the difference.
Why care? Investors are still concerned over Bitcoin’s lack of regulation. Binance.US, the American outpost of one of the largest crypto exchanges that launched today, still can’t operate in major US states like New York. But if Bakkt can convince traditional investors on Wall Street that Bitcoin is a good investment, then more of Wall Street’s experience, money, and prestige will flow straight to crypto.
Think of Bakkt as the New York Stock exchange, but for Bitcoin. No, really: Bakkt is run by the owners of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)–the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), and its futures will run on ICE Futures U.S exchange. It’s backed by the CTFC and the NYSDFS, two of the toughest regulators in the US. Support by top regulators could be the kick the crypto industry needs if it wants to be taken seriously by mainstream financial institutions.
Bitcoin’s clairvoyants, however, are split over how Bakkt will affect the Bitcoin market. Strong, bullish Bitcoin maximalists say Bakkt will catapult Bitcoin to the next level, but pessimistic no-coiners believe it'll do absolutely nothing, because nobody cares about Bitcoin anyway.
Some pundits have already bought into the gambit: “I am very positive on Bakkt and its ability to improve trust with institutions to crypto,” tweeted Tom Lee, the co-founder of Fundstrat Global Advisors Thursday. Vaibhav Kadikar, Founder & CEO of CloseCross, a decentralized prediction market platform, agreed: “[Bakkt] provides a way for large, risk-averse institutions to buy and custody bitcoin through an end-to-end regulated system. Being backed by the New York Stock Exchange has granted bitcoin a level of legitimization never seen before,” he told Decrypt.
With good reason: Bakkt’s futures contracts lets customers bet on the price of Bitcoin in Bitcoin, rather than betting on the price of Bitcoin with US dollars. Risky business if unregulated, but Bakkt’s futures contracts are settled on ICE Futures U.S.–ICE’s futures contracts exchange–and cleared on ICE Clear–ICE’s the derivatives clearing house–both of which are regulated by the CFTC. That’s a huge deal: On other, unregulated exchanges, there’s a chance that the price of Bitcoin could be manipulated at the last second. With CTFC regulation, there’s no chance for any funny business.
Christophe de Courson, CEO of blockchain asset management fund Olymp Capital, said that Bakkt’s regulation makes the typical “traditional fund asset managers feel more comfortable,” and gives access to those whom “can’t invest in non-regulated products.” He expects that lots of institutional investors will put money behind Bakkt’s heavily insured custody service. Today’s launch follows the opening of Bakkt Warehouse on September 6, a custody service which is insured to the tune of $125 million, and the same cyber-security technology that protests the NYSE. “Even if a lot of [investors] will trade these contracts over time, it will drive Bitcoin adoption to new highs as institutional investors have now access to a great way to diversify their portfolios,” said de Courson.
But Bakkt’s launch has started cautiously, just 28 Bitcoin sits on the exchange, though it only launched last night, and US investors are yet to wake up. Yet there’s reason to believe Bakkt might actually make a difference. Bakkt’s CEO, Kelly Loeffler was ranked in Worth Magazine’s top 100 most influential people in global finance, and was previously the CMO of ICE. And Bakkt has raised hundreds of millions of dollars, backed by huge companies including Microsoft and Starbucks.
Preston Byrne, a partner at law firm Byrne & Storm, P.C., told Decrypt Bakkt might not be enough to seal the deal: “On its own I doubt Bakkt will move the needle. However, taken together with all of the other movement in the space, increased professionalization and supervision of the crypto coin markets will be net positive, although it may be necessary to wait for certain regulatory headwinds to die down before we can see the precise impact their arrival will have,” he said.
Blockchain critic David Gerard was even more skeptical: “The question is how much demand there will be for Bakkt futures. If you build it, will they come?” Regulator-backed exchanges aren’t a gold-ticket to success. VanEck’s regulator-backed Bitcoin ETF fund was a complete dud, raking in around 4 Bitcoin in total before it gave up, and the Gemini exchange, whose entire business model is trust, is just doing okay, trading some $20 million a day–Binance, by comparison, is traded $725 million n the past day. The lesson here: Regulation doesn’t necessarily mean instant success. “Bakkt has become a buzzword in the crypto space–but it depends if anyone cares enough to give them money, and especially market-significant amounts of money,” he said.
Another crypto fortune-tellers took a shot at Bakkt’s principles. In a tweet, cybersecurity expert John McAfee said Bakkt “is the opposite of freedom's movement”. Though Bakkt’s launch could lead to widespread adoption of crypto, it cedes power back to the large financial institutions we love to hate. Bitcoin, supposed to be the decentralized currency of the internet, is reigned back by regulation.
A couple hours after launch, the Noes have it: Bitcoin’s price hasn’t jumped at all. In fact, its market cap has dropped $2 billion, from $180 billion to $178. And Bakkt’s exchange, expected to be a waterfall of activity, is eerily quiet. But as America wakes up, Wall Street’s bull might kickstart the crypto market like never before.