HIGH FIDELITY

One of the world’s largest financial services firms is mining bitcoins

Obsession
Future of Finance
Obsession
Future of Finance

The head of one of the world’s largest asset management firms came out today (May 23) as a huge fan of bitcoin. Abigail Johnson, chief executive of Fidelity, which manages $1.9 trillion in mutual fund assets, told an audience at the 2017 Consensus conference—a blockchain technology summit—in New York that she was there because she “loves this stuff.”

“I’m a believer,” she said. “I’m one of the few standing before you today from a large financial services company that has not given up on digital currencies.”

Johnson announced that her customers would be able to see cryptocurrency balances on Fidelity’s website, if they held an account with Coinbase, one of the largest providers of storage and trading services in the cryptocurrency business. This feature was already available to Fidelity employees, she said, and customers would gain access to it in the second or third quarter of this year, according to Reuters.

Johnson also revealed a number of other Fidelity projects underway to figure out how to harness the potential of bitcoin and other digital currencies, which she said could “fundamentally change market structures and perhaps even the architecture of the internet itself.”

One of Fidelity’s projects is mining bitcoin and ethereum, which Johnson said was started for educational purposes, but now turns a tidy profit. “We set up a small bitcoin and ethereum mining operation…that miraculously now is actually making a lot of money,” she said.

Fidelity employees who are cryptocurrency enthusiasts are called “bitcoin vikings” within the company, Johnson said. “They are named for their adventurous spirit,” she said. Fidelity employees can pay for their lunch or coffee in bitcoin (paywall) at the corporate canteen in Boston. The firm’s charity arm also began taking bitcoin donations in 2015; Fidelity says it received $7 million worth of bitcoin donations last year.

But Johnson’s message wasn’t simply rah-rah. She implored the cryptocurrency world to work together—perhaps a reference to the internecine “civil war” in the bitcoin community over how best to increase the number of transactions the bitcoin system can handle—if it ever wanted to unlock the full potential of digital currencies. “Talk to people on the opposite side of your position,” she said. “And please, come talk to us. We need to hear your voice.”


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