The CEO of Fidelity Investments, Ms. Abigail Johnson, had a lot to announce at Consensus 2017 on Tuesday regarding the firm’s Bitcoin plans. The company is testing Coinbase integration, is already mining some bitcoin using 21 Inc computers, and employees can now pay for their lunch with bitcoin at the company’s cafeteria.
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Fidelity CEO is Pro Bitcoin
Ms. Johnson succeeded her father, Edward C. Jonhson, as the CEO of Fidelity Investments at the end of last year following his retirement announcement. Her father served as the CEO for nearly 40 years. The company currently has about $2.2 trillion in managed assets and manages retirement and savings plans for approximately 26 million people and 23,000 companies.
Consensus 2017 was her first major speaking engagement since she became chairman of the company. Ms. Johnson talked about Bitcoin and blockchain technology while giving the audience a glimpse of Fidelity’s plans for them. She said:
I am in a traditional financial services business – but we at Fidelity can see that the evolution of technology is setting our industry up for disruption.
Fidelity Cafeteria Accepts Bitcoin
Ms. Johnson announced that Fidelity employees can now pay for their lunch using bitcoin at the company’s cafeteria at its headquarters. However, she said that so far fewer than 100 employees have used this option, adding that:
I guess we have a lot of hodlers.
She then went on to share the experience of one employee, Alex. The “Bitcoin Viking,” as she calls him, bought a beverage at the cafeteria and paid with bitcoin. He then tried to return the drink. “But the Bitcoin network was being spammed that day,” Ms. Johnson recalled, therefore “the return process was taking hours.”
Alex then “gave up in despair,” she described then quoted him saying, “It’s like the matrix – I can’t actually use it in real life.”
The usability of bitcoin is slowing down adoption, Ms. Johnson claims. “If you are looking for bitcoin to beat Visa at the point of sale today, you are going to be disappointed.” However, she still has faith in the digital currency, affirming that:
I am still a believer.[…] It’s no accident that I’m one of the few standing before you today from a large financial services firm that hasn’t given up on digital currencies.
Integration with Coinbase
Another big announcement by Ms. Johnson involves an integration with the bitcoin exchange and payment processor, Coinbase.
Since November 2015, the firm has been offering the ability for customers to contribute to their charitable giving accounts using bitcoin. So far, clients have donated $8 million worth, Ms. Johnson shared.
Fidelity customers have expressed an interest in the ability to track their digital currency holdings through the Fidelity website, where they have other financial holdings, according to Ms. Johnson. This feature has been tested with employees and is already available to those with digital currencies at Coinbase, she detailed. Soon, it will roll out to all customers and they will be able to see their Coinbase holdings on the Fidelity website.
Exploring Microtransactions & Bitcoin Mining
Fidelity Labs, the firm’s research group, has made venture investments in a handful of Bitcoin businesses as well as partnering with university efforts, including the MIT Digital Currency Initiative, Ms. Johnson revealed.
“We have built proofs of concepts that accept bitcoin micro-transactions,” she detailed. In addition to micropayments, the firm is also exploring various use cases of blockchain technology through these partnerships. “Blockchain technology isn’t just a more efficient way to settle securities. It will fundamentally change market structures, and maybe even the architecture of the Internet itself,” she noted.
Furthermore, Fidelity has set up computers built by 21 Inc to mine bitcoin. “We set up small Bitcoin and ethereum mining operations, just done in the spirit of learning,” Ms. Johnson said. So far, “my…computer has mined over 200,000 satoshis,” she conveyed:
I love this stuff … and what the future holds.[…] I’d like to think that huge new markets and products will be built on these open platforms.