London has enjoyed a status of a global financial hub for centuries and served as a pioneer for brand new trading options for decades. However, some fear it is now in danger of getting left behind by the hottest emerging asset class – cryptocurrency. One of the main reasons for this appears to be the dominance of the big banks over the UK economy.
Banks Hindering Progress
Despite having a thriving fintech startups scene, an established trading ecosystem and a leading role in the traditional fiat currencies market, London appears to be missing the boat with regards to the rush of institutional money flowing into crypto finance. Locations such as Tokyo, Chicago, New York and even San Francisco are taking the lead with regards to regulated platforms, OTC and hedge funds, as well as exchange-traded derivatives such as futures. And many people in the industry believe this is mainly due to the outsize influence that the banks have in the City.
“Banks have been unusually strict in dealings with crypto,” Max Boonen, a former Goldman Sachs trader and current CEO of B2C2, a London cryptocurrency market maker, told FT. “It’s nearly impossible to open an account for crypto in the UK. The problem is that in the UK there is a perception that banks have issues with anti-money laundering and decided to be a lot more conservative.” And David Mercer, CEO of LMAX, an FCA regulated FX trading venue which recently announced a physical cryptocurrency exchange dedicated to serving just institutional clients, expects UK banks would only join the market next year. “London is very bank-driven and we see it as being a late adopter,” he explained.
Not Too Late?
There are also factors that support London’s position in the crypto market, such as CFD brokers like IG Group and Plus500 achieving success with retail traders as well as Barclays agreeing to open an account for Coinbase. Additionally, there are those that think that the matter is overstated.
“The City of London, taken as a whole, has the collective experience to make considered and forward-thinking decisions.
This experience manifests itself in many ways, from the efficiency of trade execution to KYC & AML regulations and from the strength of our legal system to our culture of effective corporate governance. These reasons are why London dominates the international foreign exchange markets, and it is unthinkable that the City will not continue to be a dominant player in crypto markets,” Nauman Anees, Co-founder of Think Coin, a multi-asset financial & cryptocurrency trading exchange.
Anees added: “London is the dominant player in global financial markets thanks to the strength of its regulatory infrastructure and position as a gateway & conduit between every key global market – and while the crypto markets are novel in many ways, these key contextual advantages still apply. Moreover, events in recent years show the crypto space is one where ‘first mover advantage’ does not apply. Repeated hacks of key exchanges along with the slow pace of international regulation has meant that many ‘early adopters’ have not been positioned to fully develop and grow with the market, meaning that a more cautious approach will likely prove to pay the biggest dividends later. That said, the idea that there is a corporate resistance to crypto adoption in London is misguided. Most of the major investment banks have opened crypto desks, and the ones which haven’t already announced are undoubtedly experimenting behind the scenes.”
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.