(Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is close to offering investment vehicles for Bitcoin and other digital assets to clients of its private wealth management unit.
″We are working closely with teams across the firm to explore ways to offer thoughtful and appropriate access to the ecosystem for private wealth clients, and that is something we expect to offer in the near-term,” Mary Rich, who was recently named global head of digital assets for the unit, said in an interview with CNBC.
Wall Street banks have largely shied away from cryptocurrencies. While Bitcoin is now more than 11 years old, there are very few things it can actually buy, and volatility is a major risk. Three years ago, Goldman hired a crypto trader to help lead digital-asset markets, with a goal of familiarizing people in the company as well as clients with cryptocurrencies, but the firm has more recently played down the idea of Bitcoin as an asset class.
Bitcoin’s rally over the past few months has intrigued wealthy investors in a new way. During the cryptocurrency’s 2017 surge, they largely remained on the sidelines. Many compared the cryptocurrency to tulip mania. Warren Buffett called Bitcoin a “mirage” and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said it was a “fraud” (although he later expressed regret for that remark).
This time, they are coming on board, along with a broad swath of retail investors. Data compiled by JPMorgan showed that retail investors have purchased over 187,000 Bitcoins this quarter as of mid-March, compared with roughly 205,000 last quarter. Institutions have bought about 173,000 of the world’s largest cryptocurrency over that period, down from nearly 307,000 in the final three months of 2020.
And big banks are floating the idea that clients could use Bitcoin to diversify their portfolios. JPMorgan strategists have recently touted cryptocurrency as a way to hedge against significant fluctuations in traditional asset classes. And Bank of New York Mellon Corp. BNY Mellon has announced plans to hold, transfer and issue the digital currency for its clients.
In a memo to staff on Wednesday announcing Rich’s appointment, Goldman said that Rich “will leverage the firm’s capabilities to ensure we can best meet client interest across digital asset classes and technologies,” it said. “As a firm, we believe in the possibility of blockchain technologies, and it is imperative that we continue.”
Goldman plans to begin offering investments in digital assets in the second quarter, and is looking at eventually offering a “full spectrum” of such investments “whether that’s through the physical Bitcoin, derivatives or traditional investment vehicles,” Rich told CNBC.
(Adds details about Bitcoin’s mainstream acceptance starting in the fourth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Sridhar Natarajan and Charlie Wells.