Thank BlackRock’s Clients for Larry Fink’s Change of Heart

Blackrock's CEO once called Bitcoin an “index of money laundering.” Now he’s changed his tune.

AccessTimeIconJul 6, 2023 at 5:20 p.m. UTC
Updated Jul 6, 2023 at 6:07 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJul 6, 2023 at 5:20 p.m. UTCUpdated Jul 6, 2023 at 6:07 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJul 6, 2023 at 5:20 p.m. UTCUpdated Jul 6, 2023 at 6:07 p.m. UTC

On the same day the The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) released minutes from its June meeting, the CEO of the largest asset management firm in the world went on television to talk about how bitcoin could “revolutionize finance.”

Somehow not a typo.

Yes. Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock (BLK), went to the Fox Business studio for an interview yesterday and sang bitcoin’s praises. This is the same Larry Fink who said in

2017 that Bitcoin was an “index of money laundering.” Fink went further and said that bitcoin is an “international asset not based on any one currency … that people can play as an alternative” in the context of discussion around inflation hedges and geopolitical risk hedges.

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Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve’s minutes released yesterday afternoon have been interpreted as hawkish, meaning that although job gains were robust and GDP was growing (albeit modestly) there were still too many jobs and too much inflation. Most markets didn’t like that, with more restrictive monetary policy on the horizon, and spent most of Thursday on a down trend.

What’s the big deal?

We’ve all been inundated with headline after headline after headline about BlackRock and its Bitcoin ETF and its competitors’ ETFs and the like. It’s exhausting but there’s a big reason for this. This is a dramatic shift in the narrative.

Bitcoin believers have been calling bitcoin “digital gold” or “gold 2.0” for a while. To hear it mentioned as such by one of the most authoritative voices in finance is meaningful. Inflation hedges are treated as inflation hedges mostly because we, collectively, say it is an inflation hedge and the supply of that asset cannot be artificially increased or decreased on a whim.

But there’s more. Here’s the full interview quote from Fink:

Instead of investing in gold as a hedge against inflation, a hedge against the onerous problems of any one country, or the devaluation of your currency whatever country you’re in – let’s be clear, bitcoin is an international asset, it’s not based on any one currency and so it can represent an asset that people can play as an alternative.

Now that is crazy.

Fink went full “bitcoin bro.”

This adds on yet another narrative to the “digital gold” narrative. Bitcoin is money without a nation. It’s neutral money that can be used to hedge against things like the currency devaluation we’re seeing in countries like Lebanon. Again, these aren’t new narratives or talking points. But it is for BlackRock. And, like mentioned above, it's a complete reversal of a position.

Naturally, we all want to know why the firm flip-flopped and there’s a simple explanation (aside from BlackRock simply wanting to make money by issuing its Bitcoin ETF).

BlackRock’s clients are getting skittish about the economy. Inflation has run amok, interest rates have increased twenty-fold, entire banks have failed and there are worries of impending recession. Those clients, which include big money players like insurance companies, pension funds and high-net worth individuals, are interested in protecting their money as we enter a period where the perpetual equities bull market might finally come to an abrupt halt as the macro environment deteriorates.

And as conversations about protecting money have come up, surely gold has been discussed given its history. Evidently, so has bitcoin. This idea that bitcoin could act as an inflation hedge with absolute, provable scarcity has been pounded into the heads of people as a possibility by bitcoin acolytes.

And so too has the need to protect against geopolitical risk come to the forefront with war raging in Ukraine. Neutral bitcoin could potentially help there as well. As such, enough clients have mentioned bitcoin to get BlackRock to take it seriously.

The client is always right, and since clients seemingly want bitcoin, who is BlackRock or Larry Fink to deny the client? It didn’t become a $10 trillion asset manager by not listening to them.

Edited by Ben Schiller.

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George Kaloudis

George Kaloudis was a research analyst and columnist for CoinDesk.