Bitcoin was labelled a “fad” yet also “interesting” in a panel discussion at Saxo Bank’s Trading Debates event in central London yesterday.
Held in the British Library, the event was attended by more than 300 people from the world of traditional finance, including bankers, traders and other financial services professionals.
The panel discussion Fintech Boom – An Opportunity or a Threat for Financial Services? was moderated by Anna Irrera, trading and technology reporter at Financial News.
Panellist Javier Tordable, senior vice president at German derivatives exchange Eurex Exchange, tentatively labelled bitcoin a “fad” before clarifying he doesn’t think much of it as an alternative currency, but believes in it as a method of storing and sharing data.
“We are very interested in the technology behind it, the block chain,” he said.
Tordable said he was very much interested in the idea of storing data in a “multi-channel” or distributed manner, rather than trusting one source to store it.
Also on the panel were Gerald Brady, managing director at Silicon Valley Bank; Ian Morgan, director of financial services sector at Google UK; Peter Randall, consultant at Social Stock Exchange Ltd; and Matteo Cassina, head of business lines at Saxo Bank.
Click below to view images from Saxo Bank’s Trading Debates event and the British Museum’s display on bitcoin:
Block chain potential
Randall agreed bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies offer something extremely interesting to the world of finance in the form of permanent data storage and tracking.
“Things like crowdfunding need to have the ability to [track] where assets actually are and the block chain represents an opportunity to do that very, very cheaply and very, very efficiently,” he said.
While he’s not convinced cryptocurrency’s current forms necessarily provide the ultimate solution, he does think there are “elements of the technology that can be used, will be used and are being used to effect solutions to particular problems”.
One of these problems, he explained, is the clearing and settlement of funds and assets – the use of a block chain would enable traders and financiers to record where assets actually are, and have been, at any point in time.
Saxo Bank’s Matteo Cassina said he also believes bitcoin is an interesting technology, but he doesn’t think it can exist without some form of centralised control. He explained:
“Ultimately, you will always need to have someone centrally holding the keys to the code, whether it’s a central bank as we define it today, or something else. But it will be regulated somehow. Someone will hold the keys and issue them.”
A positive view
This isn’t the first time a senior staff member at Saxo Bank has spoken publicly about cryptocurrency.
Back in March, the Danish investment bank’s CEO and co-founder Lars Seier Christensen revealed he had bought bitcoins and that his company was exploring the digital currency’s potential use. “I’ve taken a personal interest in understanding the space better,” he said.
Christensen went on to say that, while Saxo wasn’t looking to “take the lead” on getting involved in the bitcoin space, it is “not dismissing it out of hand for regulatory reasons or other reasons that banks would completely ignore it.”
However, a few months later, he said he believes the main reason banks are steering clear of bitcoin is because of its extreme volatility and lack of liquidity.
None of these issues were touched upon in yesterday’s panel discussion, but Randall did suggest those in the existing financial world would be foolish to ignore bitcoin and developments involving block chains.
“I think there are a whole series of incumbents that have a lot to be thinking about in that space,” he concluded.
Bitcoin on show
The British Museum was a fitting venue for the event as it currently houses an exhibition on the evolution of money. Earlier this year, the museum added a section about bitcoin to the exhibition.
A member of the museum’s team explained the difficulties faced when trying to put together a display on digital currency:
“I hit the unavoidable question of how do you explain digital currencies with objects? Is it even possible? Objects are at the heart of everything we do in the museum. At present I have […] paper receipts from bitcoin transactions and copies of the Bitcoin Magazine, but am struggling to think of other appropriate physical objects.”