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Banks and crypto

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Brushing FTX and the crypto winter to one side, a couple of other crypto-related headlines caught my attention recently. The first is America’s oldest bank, BNY Mellon (founded 1784), is offering digital custody services.

BNY Mellon, America’s oldest bank, launches crypto service 

The bank will store private keys to access the funds and provide the same bookkeeping services offered to fund managers in other assets, such as stocks and bonds.

“With Digital Asset Custody, we continue our journey of trust and innovation into the evolving digital assets space, while embracing leading technology and collaborating with fintechs,” said Roman Regelman, CEO of securities services and digital at BNY Mellon.

Is this radical? Not at all. Nine out of ten institutional investors are now interested in investing in crypto and four of ten already have. It’s a customer need.

The second headline was Damien Hirst burning his art:

The artist told buyers who bought pieces from his latest collection to choose either the physical artwork or the NFT representing it. Those who chose the NFTs were told their corresponding physical piece would be destroyed.

Asked how he felt to be burning the works, Hirst said: “It feels good, better than I expected” … it has been estimated the works being burned are collectively worth almost £10 million.

The latter headline made national news and even had the morning TV presenters say non-fungible tokens. When the main news channels talk about non-fungible tokens, you know something is changing.

Hirst launched his first NFT collection last year, called The Currency, which was made up of 10,000 NFTs, corresponding to 10,000 original pieces of art. Collectors who bought one had to choose between keeping the NFT or swapping it for the physical artwork. London's Newport Street Gallery said 5,149 buyers opted for the original artworks while 4,851 chose the NFTs.

When America’s oldest bank becomes a digital custodian and one of the most collected artists in the world destroys his original art, and replaces it with an NFT, you know something is changing.

The world we live in today is different.

We are tokenizing assets, moving to a fully automated world, replacing physical with digital and getting smart. It’s hard to keep up with the speed of these things but then, as I always say, the only constant is change.

But then reality smacks you on the head.

I walk into a bank branch, if I can find one, and find it a soul destroying experience.

I call my bank, and find there’s no one there because they have unexpectedly higher volume of calls (or is that we don’t employ enough people to deal with customers?).

I go online and try and talk to my bank through their chatbot, and find the bot is not enough.

We can do everything digitally, sure, but when digital doesn’t work, the backup systems must be better. If a customer calls, it is the chance to excel and exceed expectations. It is the most critical moment of keeping or losing a customer. Yet it is that very moment when most companies fail, because they do not invest in the physical backup systems.

It’s a balance.

Therefore, when I see that America’s oldest bank and the world’s leading artist are wholly committing to digital … I just wonder what backup there is. By waya of example, I’ve bought some NFTs but, because I don’t look at them so often, I find the Metamask and other sign-on and passwords difficult to remember. Therefore, I’ve lost some NFTs, because I just don’t know how to access them anymore, and there’s no one to call to find out how to unlock them.

So, I buy a Damien Hirst NFT for $10,000, forget the password and it’s dead forever. Or is this just me being ignorant?


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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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