Banks must find their Crypto courage

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Banks that were hoping the cryptocurrency industry might collapse and go away are once again showing concern as digital currencies rocket higher in a new bull market. On January 1st, 2019, the total market capitalization of the top 100 cryptocurrencies was $126 billion, climbing to over $240 billion as of November 1st, 2019. [https://coinmarketcap.com/]

News cycles still love to hype up the crypto industry, just as they did during the previous boom of 2017. And banks are asking themselves – how should we react this time around?

The short answer is that banks need to wake up to the opportunities that digital
currencies and a modern FinTech marketplace offer, rather than react with fear and rejection. Banks should take the initiative and develop a solid crypto strategy for a number of reasons:

  • Сrypto has proved it is not a flash in the pan. Volatility is a feature of the market, and investors show strong appetites in the good times and solid resilience during the bad. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are here for the long term.
  • Numerous crypto businesses have felt the pain of being rejected by mainstream banks but would actually be profitable clients. Previously, banks did not want to get involved because they perceived crypto businesses as being resource-intensive and risky from a regulatory perspective.
  • Lastly, global mainstream interest and acceptance of crypto will continue to grow. Utility payments and coffee purchases can now be done with cryptocurrencies. Crypto ATMs are increasing in number.

Despite this fast-growing and largely untapped market, banks have taken a more nuanced view. Their caution is driven by regulatory uncertainty.

Control over currency circulation and use is an integral part of government monetary policy, providing levers for stimulating spending and investment, generating jobs, managing inflation and avoiding recession. No government will risk giving up these tools. Despite the appeal of cryptocurrency mass adoption, regulators will always act to restrict the amount of money circulating in an economy – virtual and otherwise.

The IRS treats digital currencies as property, but with a degree of suspicion that taxable gains from the growth of cryptocurrencies have been widely underreported. Even though Bitcoin does not currently have legal tender status in any jurisdiction, it may, in the future, make more sense to tax cryptocurrencies like regular money.

The cryptocurrency ecosystem is complex and rather opaque, with masked entities acting in a financial environment that quite often lacks legal recourse. Traditional financial institutions are understandably hesitant to endorse this new market and its technology. So change seems to be gradual and incremental. But modern banks should, at the very least, have these challenges on their radar.

This is because finance and technology are constantly developing to include crypto as part of their service offer. And banks should adapt to keep up with the times. The new cryptocurrency bull market means that banks should develop strategies and offers that welcome legions of new customers from all sectors of the digital currency industry. It is an opportunity too big to miss.

If banks are cautious about publicly endorsing the cryptocurrency industry, one solid approach would be to prepare behind the scenes for future changes, rather than risk getting caught flat footed.

Beefing up security, risk management and compliance is a never-ending arms race – and not just for banks. Big players in digital currencies, such as crypto exchanges and investment brokers also take great care to comply with stringent know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations.

Banks should become comfortable working with the leading cryptocurrency institutions because many have proved themselves adept at dealing with evolved threats and a great number now also have a track record of compliance that is just as robust as that of banks themselves. Banks should examine, integrate and streamline cryptocurrency security and compliance procedures into their own systems.

Lastly, cryptocurrencies and the underlying blockchain technology they are built on can be useful for banks in other ways – such as acting as an asset bridge to quickly resolve cross-border payments. In fact, IBM World Wire recently showed that financial institutions can seamlessly connect existing payment systems to clear and settle cross-border payments in seconds, where previously such a transaction may have taken hours or even days.

Regardless of how the markets will turn in 2020, banks must calmly assess and implement long-term cryptocurrency strategies. Those banks who continue to keep their heads in the sand will be at a significant disadvantage compared to those who embrace the future.

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