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Big Bank Meets Big Bitcoin: JPMorgan Partners with Gemini and Coinbase

Blame it on the halving?

This week the Wall Street Journal reported that JPMorgan had established an official banking relationship with two cryptocurrency exchanges: Gemini and long-time Finovate alum Coinbase. JPMorgan is not going all-in on crypto; the agreement calls for the bank to process only the exchange’s fiat-based transactions. Nevertheless, the partnership is a notable milestone in the relationship between big banks and the bitcoin business.

The news is interesting for a variety of reasons. For one, JPMorgan CEO and Jamie Dimon has been a notorious critic of, if not all cryptocurrencies, then at least bitcoin. In 2017, Dimon called bitcoin “a fraud,” adding that bitcoin is “worse than tulip bulbs. It won’t end well. Someone is going to get killed.” He has since moderated his critique, and his bank, like most other major financial institutions, are piloting various initiatives that use bitcoin’s underlying blockchain technology – even if not embracing bitcoin itself. That said, last year the bank announced the creation of a JPM Coin that can be used as a digital token to instantly settle transactions. The initiative was the first real-world use of a digital coin by a major bank in the U.S.

The partnership news also comes just after the bitcoin halving, in which the reward for mining BTC transactions is reduced by 50% in order to manage supply. This week’s process is the third in the cryptocurrency’s history; bitcoin was halved first in 2012 and again in 2016. After the most recent halving four years ago, bitcoin saw significant price appreciation, climbing from approximately $650 that July to nearly $20,000 a year and a half later. And while the halving has helped draw renewed attention to cryptocurrencies as alternative stores of value, few anticipate bitcoin making the same kind of post-halving run this time around as it did in 2016.

Whether or not JP Morgan will seek out other customers in the cryptocurrency industry remains to be seen. One advantage both Gemini and Coinbase have is that they are among the most heavily regulated cryptocurrency exchanges in the U.S. Both have earned BitLicenses from the New York State Department of Financial Services, and are registered as money services with FinCEN. These may prove to be high hurdles for many other crypto businesses.

Coinbase made its Finovate debut in 2014 at our west coast conference. Founded two years earlier, the company has raised more than $547 million in funding, and had an estimated global revenue of approximately $520 million in 2018 according to Reuters. Since inception, Coinbase has facilitated the exchange of $150 billion in cryptocurrencies, and served more than 30 million customers in 102 countries.