All Business? Bitcoin is Becoming a Hobby for Exchange Employees

Cryptocurrencies are becoming a notable hobby for exchange traders, even as their businesses struggle to understand applications of the tech.

Apr 2, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 1:12 p.m. UTC
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After years of grabbing global headlines, it seems bitcoin is making inroads with employees at exchanges and solutions providers in the sector.

At the World Exchange Congress this week, bitcoin wasn't a frequent topic of discussion, appearing only in conversations spurred by evangelists. Still, while many companies are still trying to make sense of applications for distributed ledger tech (DLT), their employees appear to be embracing the general idea as hobbyists, using cryptocurrencies as a way to learn – and earn – on the side.

For example, Lazlo Szabo, a member of the IT department at the publicly owned Budapest Stock Exchange, wasn't able to provide much insight into what his firm is doing to get up to speed on developments in the blockchain sector.

"For the company, it's a lot – we have another problems to solve before we take a huge step," Szabo said, noting the exchange is already upgrading its trading engine.

Still, that isn’t stopping Szabo from checking websites CoinMarketCap, a cryptocurrency price and information page, daily with about five of his other co-workers.

He told CoinDesk:

"We are trading bitcoin or other altcoins, about five people altogether. It's not so much. It's a hobby, you check the news and technologies."

Szabo went on to suggest he believes the technology will "become more common", though he's not sure when or how it will end up being applied. The case is much the same for Elie Cezard, fixed income business director at exchange tech provider Trading Screen.

Cezard reported being active in his local blockchain communities, and said Trading Screen had even been in discussions to add bitcoin as an FX option, though the plan never quite came to fruition.

Like other peers at the event, Cezard sees more potential for the tech in back-end settlement and post-trade clearing sectors.

"Our clients are institutional investors and, for the moment, there's no way we can really get institutional investors to go into cryptocurrencies," he said. Still, he acknowledged that other companies are moving in that direction.

Coming soon

Also notable were the number of respondents who spoke generally about digital currencies and blockchain, with some being quick to see applications for the tech, and others seeming unsure of just what to make of it.

Paul Bwiso, CEO for the Uganda Securities Exchange, the nation's principal stock exchange, sees the appeal in bitcoin as a kind of virtual money. Given the importance of the mobile phone in Africa’s financial system, he sees the link, even if he doesn’t believe it’s an opportunity for his operation.

Still, he said he was positive generally about the tech, remarking: "I think it's the future."

A similar outlook was put forward by Khalifa Bin Ebrahim, CEO of Bahrain Bourse, who argued that he believes blockchain will first find its way into finance, if first in back-office, post-trade systems.

"It will be a good value proposition to build a strong case," he said.

Thoughts but little action

Among the crowd was also a handful of skeptics – not of bitcoin, but of the idea that its underlying blockchain technologies could be more broadly applied.

One such voice was Riskbone founder Lanre Sarumi, who said he believes bitcoin has a "clear direction" and that the blockchain is an obvious use case for a global currency.

Still, Sarumi hasn’t found a way to work cryptocurrencies into his offering. That doesn’t mean he’s not looking, though, and he expressed interest in trading bitcoin futures – in part because of the issues surrounding storing and holding cryptographic keys that manage access to blockchain-linked data.

He also spoke to broad concerns amongst traders about the relatively new asset, showcasing just how far bitcoin has to go, even with those who understand it well.

"You don't want to be the one holding on to bitcoin when it completely collapses," he said.

Kraken business development lead Reed Holmes reported that more hobbyists are beginning to turn to the cryptocurrency market on the side, drawn like Sarumi to its perceived future impact.

"A lot of these guys are pure traders, they’re hobbyists, they seem to be really interested in it," he said, though he acknowledged action by their companies is so far more scarce.

Holmes concluded:

"I think maybe it’s a mindset and somewhere down the line they have to realize that bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are coming."

Image via Pete Rizzo for CoinDesk

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