Barclays, Britain’s largest bank, has been discussing cryptocurrencies like bitcoin with UK’s primary financial regulator.
Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, revealed the bank and FinTech firms have been in talks with the Financial Conduct Authority, UK’s financial regulator and watchdog.
In an interview with CNBC, Vaswani was specifically asked about the possibility of Barclays enabling bitcoin accounts at a time when everyday retail investors adopt the world’s most prominent cryptocurrency.
“Is this something you reckon Barclays could support via an account? Is this an area that you want to get into as well?” was the question, hinting toward an implementation similar to that of billion-dollar financial giant Fidelity. Later this year, Fidelity Investments’ customers will be able to see their bitcoin and Ethereum holdings, if any, on US-based digital currency exchange Coinbase.
While details are scarce, the banking executive discussed the possibility of about bringing cryptocurrencies “into play”, although there’s no way to tell yet what “the play” would entail in introducing cryptocurrencies into society.
His answer, in its entirety, reads:
In fact, we have been talking to a couple of fintechs and have actually gone with the fintects to the FCA to talk about how we could bring, the equivalent of bitcoin, not necessarily bitcoin, but cryptocurrencies into play. Obviously [it’s] a new area, obviously an area we gotta be careful with. We’re working our way through it.
Vaswani’s sense of caution comes at a time when the FCA – commonly seen as regulator pushing innovation in the FinTech space – urged the public to be wary of trading or investing in digital currencies like bitcoin in recent weeks.
In a public talk earlier this month, FCA strategy and competition director Chris Woolard revealed the regulator does not prohibit regulated firms from trading digital currencies nor prohibit banks from offering banking services to firms using blockchain technology or digital currencies.
“I am not saying that we view digital currencies as an inherently bad thing…but we do have to exercise a degree of caution,” Woolard stated.
Although stating that discussions about cryptocurrencies had taken place, Vaswani did not reveal the regulator’s response to the talks.
“Lot of work going on blockchain [technology],” the Barclays CEO added, quick to point out that Barclays had facilitated the world’s first trade finance transaction on a blockchain in September 2016, with the export of cheese and butter from an Irish agricultural co-operative to a trading company in Seychelles.
Barclays has already been involved in the digital currency space after partnering former bitcoin-startup Circle which gained an electronic money license from the FCA in April 2016. Furthermore, former group CEO of Barclays Anthony Jenkins has, in late 2015, predicted that the banking industry is set to lose 50% of its workforce due to an oncoming 'Uber moment' brought on by financial technologies.
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