Customers Bank, based in West Reading, Pennsylvania, is joining the small list of FDIC-insured institutions in the U.S. that are willing to work with cryptocurrency businesses.
The bank will compete against Silvergate in California and Signature in New York in offering crypto firms basic accounts as well as a blockchain-based platform for clients to instantly send each other dollars 24/7.
“We are well-positioned to be a great third banking option that can offer a strong offering to the digital asset space,” said Cameron Somers, Customers Bank's head of digital assets. "The main focus is to build a low cost deposit franchise very similar to what Signature Bank and what Silvergate Bank has done.”
Because of onerous anti-money-laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) requirements, most U.S. banks have been reluctant to work with cryptocurrency firms. The exchanges and other firms that serve the digital asset market, however, process high volumes of payments and typically seek multiple banks to store and move their users’ fiat.
“Customers continue to try to find ways to be involved, engaged, and interested in the cryptocurrency world,” said Sam Sidhu, Customers Bank’s vice chair and chief operating officer. “Some banks might offer rewards or custody services to consumers. We are focused on the businesses that may directly or indirectly service those customers.”
Ten to 15 clients will begin testing Customers’ blockchain payments platform from a technology provider called Tassat in September before the bank opens the service up to the rest of the crypto ecosystem in October.
"Once we have a fully functional ecosystem with a number of different types of institutions on that platform then the idea would be to continue to expand from there and then potentially build on some additional products and features within our offering,” Somers said.
The Tassat Pay Network provides real-time blockchain payments by tokenizing U.S. dollar deposits and moving them between digital wallets on Tassat’s platform. Conceptually, it is similar to JPMorgan Chase’s JPM coin, which enables the megabank’s corporate customers to send each other money instantaneously using a private blockchain.
Similarly, Tassat’s blockchain can only facilitate payments between clients of the banks using it, though the platform is connected to traditional payments systems like the automated clearing house (ACH) and Fedwire.
The on-chain fiat payments will be free, in contrast to the fees for sending payments via ACH, and Customers Bank said it expects to pay little or no interest on these firms’ deposits. “So they’ll be the raw material for our bank to provide loans,” Sidhu said.
Customers Bank also plans to offer Tassat Pay to non-crypto clients in accounting, alternative energy, commercial real estate, healthcare, hospitality, insurance and manufacturing, Sidhu said.
Main Street banking
With $19.6 billion in assets, Customers Bank is 0.52% the size of JPMorgan, and regional institutions like this are the sweet spot for Tassat.
The partnership is a first for Tassat outside powering Signature Bank’s Signet. The fintech provider is courting banks with deposits between $5 billion to $200 billion, said Tassat CEO Ron Totaro. (Similarly, digital asset management firm NYDIG is targeting payments and banking tech providers to help smaller banks compete in the crypto space).
“The nation’s largest banks are experimenting with blockchain to launch new services and attract deposits and customers, often away from small and midsize institutions,” Totaro said. “What they have—that small and midsize institutions don’t—is an expansive budget, teams and ability to experiment. In contrast, small and midsize banks need to see ROI from every cent they spend on technology.”
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