One of the biggest global currency exchanges is more excited about ethereum than bitcoin

Embracing change.
Embracing change.
Image: Reuters/Jim Urquhart
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

NEX Group operates dominant electronic markets for trading in the world’s most important assets, from US Treasury bonds to currencies like the euro and the dollar. Now, the company is taking a look at cryptocurrencies—particularly ethereum and ripple.

Michael Spencer, the CEO of NEX and a fixture in London’s financial scene, is less bullish about bitcoin—the biggest and oldest of the cryptocurrencies—given some of its vulnerabilities. He thinks there’s potential instead in the next-generation of cryptocurrencies like ripple, which is issued by its namesake money-transfer company. NEX is actively discussing building transaction platforms for cryptocurrencies, although Spencer said in a conference call that he and his executives haven’t made a final decision on the matter.

It’s been an exciting year for decentralized, cryptographically-protected assets. Ethereum, for example, has helped sprout an “initial coin offering” craze that is getting ridiculous.

Prices for the big three cryptocurrencies—with a combined market capitalization of more than $60 billion—have trembled recently, reversing a rapid rally earlier this year. In the world of bitcoin, the asset that started the crypto craze, the CEO of bankrupt exchange Mt. Gox is on trial for charges related to embezzlement.

Still, there are growing signs of acceptance for cryptoassets like bitcoin from figures as diverse as Japanese lawmakers and Fidelity’s chief.

NEX’s interest in cryptoassets shows how far the company has evolved from its original lines of business, and also how the financial sector has changed in recent years. The company Spencer runs now, previously called ICAP, has its roots in the firm he started some 30 years ago when brokerage transactions between banks were shouted over the phone. NEX recently hived off its voice-based brokerage business, leaving it with a financial-technology firm that among other things runs electronic markets for big institutional traders.

NEX is already incorporating blockchain technology (paywall), the digital distributed ledger system that backs cryptocurrencies, in its systems. Providing a trading platform for ether or ripple would be another step in its evolution.