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BBVA: We Wanted to Better Understand the Bitcoin Opportunity

(@pete_rizzo_) | Published on January 21, 2015 at 00:50 BST
Feature

Jay Reinemann, BBVAWhile there were many big-name participants in Coinbase’s most recent $75m funding round, perhaps no name caught more attention than BBVA Ventures, the private equity subsidiary of Spanish multinational bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA).

BBVA’s direct investment in the round is especially notable given the continued difficulties companies in the bitcoin and wider digital currencies space face obtaining even operational bank accounts.

However, according to BBVA Ventures executive director Jay Reinemann, his company’s decision to invest in Coinbase does not indicate that its parent bank is willing to open its doors to bitcoin companies just yet.

Reinemann told CoinDesk:

“This is unfortunately not an announcement that we’re opening up the bank to do that, it’s moreso a precursor. We need to better understand the industry and understand how merchants and consumers are interacting with bitcoin.”

However, Reinemann suggested that such a step could be a possibility in the long term, as BBVA Ventures exists to help the bank understand what its consumers will want in the future, and grow to meet those needs.

“Hopefully that’s something we can participate in in an active way, but first things first, this is about us learning,” Reinemann stressed.

Still, Reinemann indicated the bank is cognizant of the potential opportunity posed by bitcoin and its surrounding ecosystem.

“Crypto holds the possibility for huge disruption in financial services,” Reinemann said. “Obviously, it can be applied to a lot of other things, but that’s something we’re interested in.”

The comments are the latest in what has been a slow trickle of investor comment on the Coinbase funding round, the largest ever completed in the bitcoin space.

A learning experience

Like others involved in the funding round, Reinemann stressed that BBVA’s investment in Coinbase is one that will provide it the ability to educate itself about the ecosystem.

“We’re making these investments to learn, to start the engagement, and we think that through these investments, the bank can do a better job of learning than just sitting on the sidelines, than trying to read about it,” Reinemann said. “It’s about trying to actively participate.”

Reinemann said that in contrast to other businesses in the space, Coinbase will allow it to observe a bitcoin business operating at scale.

Further, Reinemann was also encouraged by Coinbase and its commitment to leading the space with its own educational efforts, citing how the company has so far excelled at regulation and compliance while also providing ease of use.

“I think it’s helping people transact in a way that they’re used to transacting,” Reinemann said of the Coinbase user experience.

Ribbit’s leading influence

Of all the investors in the round, Reinemann talked most passionately about Ribbit Capital, the financial services investment firm of which BBVA Ventures is also a backer.

For example, Reinemann cited Ribbit founder 'Micky' Malka as a influencer that helped encourage it to more directly engage with the bitcoin space through its investment in Coinbase.

“Micky’s been pretty outspoken in the industry and he’s been a great evangelist for the industry,” Reinemann said.

Reinemann also gave credit to portfolio firm 500 Startups, one of the more active incubators in the digital currency space.

Early days

While enthusiastic about the investment, Reinemann continued to emphasize that BBVA Ventures believes the bitcoin ecosystem to still be in its infancy.

Though he called bitcoin “hot from a media perspective”, he suggested that in his view there are still very few merchants and consumers actually using the technology and that the industry needs to work to move past early adopters.

Overall, Reinemann said he believes Coinbase can become a foundational company that helps others find real use cases for bitcoin and empowers others to further explore blockchain technology.

Reinemann concluded:

“It’s still early days, there’s a lot of risk, but we think the opportunity out there is much larger.”

BBVA image via Shutterstock

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