Commonwealth Bank becomes first Australian bank to offer crypto exchange services

Commonwealth Bank Australian bank crypto exchange services Bitcoin Ethereum ASX CBA
CBA chief executive officer Matt Comyn says the bank is addressing what is “clearly a growing customer need”, while providing security and confidence in a crypto trading platform.

The advance of crypto assets into mainstream investor consciousness has passed another milestone after Commonwealth Bank (ASX: CBA) became the first major Australian bank to offer crypto services to its 17-million-strong customer base in Australia.

The development comes hot on the heels of ASIC rubber stamping cryptocurrency ETFs, allowing Bitcoin and Ethereum-backed investment funds trading on the ASX.

In a statement to the market, CBA announced it would be offering customers the ability to buy, sell and hold crypto assets, directly through the CommBank app, as part of a soft pilot launch “in the coming weeks”.

According to the bank, the newly launched facility is initially aimed at 6.5 million users across Australia, in a bid to compete with existing crypto trading services being offered by the likes of Square, PayPal and Revolut.

To deliver its batch of crypto exchange and custody services, the CBA said it has partnered with certified crypto exchange and custodian, Gemini, and blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis.

Gemini is a New York trust company regulated by the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS), while Chainalysis is a prominent blockchain data platform providing data, software, services and research, globally.

Gemini’s head of business development Dave Abner explained that his company is proud to be providing exchange and custody services to CBA as it begins to “unlock access to cryptocurrency investments for many Australians”.

“The exponential growth of digital assets internationally, coupled with Gemini’s institutional-grade security and proactive regulatory approach, positions this partnership to set a new standard for banks and financial platforms in Australia and across the globe,” he added.

The CBA plans to commence its pilot “in the coming weeks” while progressively rolling out additional features to more customers in 2022.

As an initial offering, the CBA confirmed it will provide customers with access to 10 crypto assets including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin.

The bank cited research showing that a large number of its customer base is interested in accessing crypto assets as an “investment class” and confirmed many customers are already buying, selling and holding crypto assets through a variety of crypto exchanges.

“The emergence and growing demand for digital currencies from customers creates both challenges and opportunities for the financial services sector, which has seen a significant number of new players and business models innovating in this area,” CBA chief executive officer Matt Comyn said.

“We believe we can play an important role in crypto to address what’s clearly a growing customer need and provide capability, security and confidence in a crypto trading platform,” he added.

Cryptocurrency adoption surges

According to a report published by Chainalysis, Australia ranks 38th on its global crypto adoption index and 12th on its decentralised finance (DeFi) adoption index.

The authors note that growing transaction volume for centralised services and the “explosive” growth of DeFi are driving cryptocurrency usage in the developed world “and in countries that already had substantial adoption, while P2P platforms are driving new adoption in emerging markets”.

The report’s authors conclude that “cryptocurrency adoption has skyrocketed in the last 12 months, and the variation in the countries contributing to that show that cryptocurrency is a truly global phenomenon”.

Chainalysis’ research also states that global cryptocurrency adoption has grown by over 2,300% since Q3 2019 and over 881% in 2021.

“Our research suggests that the reasons for this increased adoption differ around the world: in emerging markets, many turn to cryptocurrency to preserve their savings in the face of currency devaluation, send and receive remittances, and carry out business transactions; in North America, Western Europe, and Eastern Asia, by contrast, adoption over the last year has been driven largely by institutional investment.”

Crypto services expanding in Australia

Access to crypto services is expanding rapidly in Australia. In addition to existing players such as the CBA and PayPal, online banks such as Revolut – offering integrated digital wallets and seamless payments – are stepping in to compete with existing banks.

Buy now pay later (BNPL) firm Zip is also seeking to introduce crypto exchange and custody services, starting with its US customers and likely expanding its reach to Australia sometime thereafter.

Today’s news is a clear indication that the CBA – among all large banks – are anxious at being left behind by the personal finance revolution being powered by technology firms, as opposed to traditional banks.

Technology companies such as PayPal, Revolut and Square are currently wooing millions of customers away from traditional banking platforms over to newer, more attractive and cheaper alternatives.

With crypto services being widely available for over a decade, it is only now that large banks are actively playing catch-up by rolling out proprietary crypto apps.

The Australian ATO estimates that more than 600,000 taxpayers have invested in digital assets in recent years with thousands more attracted to the asset class each year, partially due to the strong price appreciation in many high-profile coins such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

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