Cryptocurrencies appeal to those who dream of a world beyond the reach of conventional institutions. The rally in bitcoin — from a low of less than $4,000 in 2018 to a new high of more than $20,000 — feels like validation to many of them.
A successful float for Coinbase, the best-known retail cryptocurrency platform, would be another step forward. But in this case, it would mean joining the financial establishment.
The US business appears keen on mainstream acceptance, even if an initial public offering is not yet officially in the works. This autumn, chief executive Brian Armstrong made a call for workplace apoliticism. His blog banned most workplace campaigning, whether libertarian or liberal.
Last valued at more than $8bn, according to Crunchbase data, Coinbase has the advantage of being used by more than 35m people. It makes money by taking commissions of up to 4.99 per cent on transactions. The group has raised almost $550m since inception and built multiple relationships with other companies. It launched a debit card with Visa in the UK last year. The card arrives in the US this year.
Connection problems that hampered trading this week may have unnerved new investors. Broad adoption of cryptos will not happen until they can be easily transferred to fiat currencies. Concerns around money laundering and the question of whether cryptos should fall under existing investment regulations hamper acceptance.
Coinbase is keen to show willing. It moved quickly to stop margin trading — in which traders borrow funds to make an investment — citing guidance from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Damping down partisan employee politics could help Coinbase keep lawmakers on side.
Still, political neutrality is an oxymoron. What Mr Armstrong considers divisive may be neutral to others. Note that he is happy for employees to continue taking a political stance on cryptos. Coinbase is part of lobby group the Blockchain Association. Increasingly, crypto money is flowing towards a Washington influence machine traditionally fuelled by Wall Street. So much for sticking it to the man.
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