SecondMarket CEO Barry Silbert Talks Vision for Bitcoin Investment Trust

Pete Rizzo
Mar 20, 2014 at 21:29 UTC
Updated Jun 20, 2014 at 15:45 UTC

SecondMarket CEO Barry Silbert made news on 19th March when he revealed that Bitcoin Investment Trust, his private investment vehicle for high net-worth investors, would open its doors to the general public as soon as Q4 2014.

The news surprised many, especially given the struggles reported by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, whose Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust has been waiting in regulatory limbo since July 2013 while it waits for SEC approval.

In initial reports, Silbert discussed his intent to list the fund on OTCQX, an electronic marketplace operated by OTC Markets Group Inc. that offers investors trading through regulated broker dealers, and to leverage his existing bitcoin businesses to bypass more restrictive regulations.

Speaking to CoinDesk, Silbert expanded on the news further, offering up a detailed view of how the expansion of Bitcoin Investment Trust (BIT) can be expected to take shape, and how these offerings would complement the separate bitcoin exchange that he has applied to run in New York.

How trading will work

The Q4 launch date would be the earliest the company could launch such its general investor initiative, Silbert said, due to unique requirements it needs to meet to remain exempt from the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s approval process.

The shares in the trust that will be made available to general investors will be drawn from those who have held funds with the BIT for more than one year.

At this point, Silbert said SecondMarket will send out stock certificates to the tenured investors, who will be allowed to sell their shares to the public market or redeem them on a monthly basis.

Explained Silbert:

“The people who have already invested, when they decide to sell, they can do so to the public market. So, the amount of shares available to the public market will be dependent on the existing shareholders’ desire to sell shares.”

SecondMarket will continue to source bitcoins for BIT through private sellers, but only high net-worth investors will be able to buy shares in these funds.

SecondMarket’s bitcoin exchange

Silbert also sees the BIT’s expanded goal benefitting from a relationship with the regulated bitcoin exchange he plans to launch this summer.

Silbert, who will serve as CEO for both SecondMarket and the new exchange, indicated that the BIT team currently needs to source the bitcoins for every purchase a new investor makes. Given that the minimum investment is $25,000, this can be challenging, even with the “couple hundred relationships” his team has established.

As such, Silbert projects that the exchange will serve as one of the potential sources of bitcoins for BIT, though he expects some separation between the entities.

“That’s not to say they have to or they will [source bitcoins from the exchange], but they will have that opportunity.”

Silbert did not elaborate on whether talks with New York regulators have progressed regarding the exchange.

Assessing the competition

Although he must meet several requirements (including market maker support, sponsorship by a law firm or bank and a formal application process), Silbert expects to be able to bypass SEC approval for the plan. Thus, SecondMarket will gain a key advantage in that it will be able to enter market far before any competitors.

Explained Silbert:

“Unless there’s another vehicle out there that has launched and has investors that have held shares for longer than 12 months, then we don’t see competition.”

Still, Silbert doesn’t exactly see this competitive advantage as a good thing, adding that he is in favor of the market providing many safe, regulated ways for consumers to access bitcoin.

Hurdles to launch

Though the plan sounds promising, Silbert also revealed that there are a number of steps SecondMarket needs to go through before BIT is allowed to expand its customer base.

First, Silbert said, SecondMarket is in need of market maker support that will come in the form of banks and brokerage firms that are needed to list a fund on OTC Markets Group Inc. At least one entity in either group would need to put their support behind the initiative.

Next, SecondMarket would require sponsorship from either a law firm or a bank. Then, there’s a formal application process with the OTCQX, all steps that Silbert cautioned will take time.

However, what is clear, is that if he does succeed, the US bitcoin market could look substantially different by the year’s end.