What Fidelities Stealth Cryptocurrency Launch Can Tell Us About the State of the Crypto Market

March 24, 2019 / by Steven Lubka

Fidelity is one of the largest asset management companies in the world, with 2.46 trillion dollars of assets under management, and to the cryptocurrency world, it is one of the strongest institutional supporters.

Fidelity began mining Bitcoin before it was cool, with operations that began in 2015. Not many financial companies were truly interested in Bitcoin during this time, but Fidelity had the understanding and foresight to know it needed to learn about this emerging technology.

Fidelity started its mining efforts to educate itself on how cryptocurrency works, and clearly, the company liked what it discovered because it subsequently began accepting Bitcoin via its charity arm. The company stated an intent to integrate wallet service providers for its customers’ dashboard, investing in a number of blockchain/cryptocurrency companies, trialing blockchain technology for its software arm, running a Bitcoin lightning network node, and, most recently, launching cryptocurrency custody and clearing service.

In 2017, the investment giant made numerous statements about the benefits of cryptocurrency and the potential the company saw for digital assets. While a number of industry players are working with cryptocurrency, IBM and JP Morgan being notable frontrunners, Fidelity has done more than any other company in terms of launching cryptocurrency initiatives.

Fidelities latest initiative is arguably its largest yet, and certainly the one with the broadest market impact. Fidelity Digital Assets is a separate company that is designed to offer custody and clearing services and is something cryptocurrency investors have been waiting for with bated breath.

Custody is a hot-button issue in the cryptocurrency world. Digital Assets are notoriously challenging to secure for an individual and even more so for a regulated financial services corporation. Many Bitcoin ETFs have been blocked by the SEC due to issues related to custody, and a multitude of companies have sprung up offering custody services. Any custody solution is put under a microscope due to all of the companies who have suffered high profile hacks and losses due to assets being improperly stored. The industry is still reeling from the Quadriga exchange hack where the founder reportedly died with the only password to over $180 million in customer assets.

It seems as though many companies have not been willing to use cryptocurrency as a tool or as an investment until they have access to a custody service that meets the requirements of their shareholders and regulators. Many cryptocurrency investors hope that Fidelity Digital Assets is that service. In their minds, Fidelity Digital Assets may be the tipping point that causes institutional money to flow into the cryptocurrency sector, emboldened by such a reputable company offering a custody solution.

These investors recently received a surprise when they discovered that the very service they have been waiting for, has actually been operational for several months. Fidelity began offering clearing and custody through Fidelity Digital Assets months ago, but hardly anyone knew about it.

Why is this?

Fidelity seems to have purposefully lead a very quiet launch to its new product. They have been offering services to family offices and hedge funds who seem keen to gain access to the cryptocurrency market. The current market hasn’t seemed to hurt the company either.

Tom Jessop, the head of Fidelity Digital Assets, stated that many institutional investors have long-term interests in the sector. The firm interviewed 450 institutions and 22 percent of these institutions already owned cryptocurrency and expect to double their portfolio allocation over the next 5 years. Jessop stated that “If anything, they are as encouraged now as they were when prices were higher.”

It appears that one reason for the quiet launch of Fidelity Digital Assets was to allow the companies clients the ability to use the service to purchase assets without triggering the market sentiment that has built up waiting for the company to open its doors.

It is likely that Fidelity knew all eyes were on it and if were to publically announce that it had begun operations, it may have denied its very clients a suitable entry. While there may be another reason behind its choice to undergo a stealth launch, the most likely reason is its own awareness of the market impact an announcement would have had.

Taking a look at how Fidelity handled its Digital Asset Launch we can learn a few things about how the investment firm moves. We can learn it has self-awareness around its own presence in the market but we can also learn that because of this awareness, the company may be keeping some of its plans concealed. There may be more going on at Fidelity than the market is aware of, much like how it secretly mined Bitcoin for several years before letting the public know. In the same vein, while we know Fidelity believes in the impact of cryptocurrencies, we may not know what it really thinks.

Hidden plans are not new phenomena in cryptocurrency, Facebook has largely concealed its cryptocurrency activities, even as it moves aggressively forward.

It is important to keep this in mind because while industry heavyweights may not write the story of cryptocurrencies, they will make large footprints that shape the landscape. So to consider how the technology is being embraced and implemented, we can learn to look at what is on the surface and to intuit there is more that is still concealed.

We may not be able to know everything that is going on behind the scenes but history has taught us that companies like Fidelity, JP Morgan, and Facebook release information gradually and the information that is released begins shaping the narrative of what the financial industry thinks of this new financial underdog, cryptocurrency.

These companies must work to shift public perception of cryptocurrency and blockchain if they plan to use it, and the gradual release of products and plans is one way they control their image. When we look at the whole picture, there is a lot more going on than meets the eye and it is important to take this into account as it has been true at all stages of the market cycle.