Wirehouses turn away from bitcoin

None of the big four brokerages are giving their wealth management and retail advisers access to trading the cryptocurrency or any related products

Jan 4, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

By Bruce Kelly

Wall Street's wirehouses are turning up their noses at bitcoin.

None of the four — Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, UBS Wealth Management Americas and Wells Fargo Advisors — are giving their wealth management and retail advisers access to trading the cryptocurrency or any related products.

Merrill Lynch told its advisers on Dec. 8 that the Grayscale Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC) was closed for client purchase, according to a memo. While new orders are blocked, clients could still sell out of their existing positions, according to the memo.

"The decision to close GBTC to new purchases is driven by concerns pertaining to suitability and eligibility standards of this product," according to the memo.

(Editorial: Cryptocurrency frenzy poses a challenge to advisers)

Reuters and the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported Merrill Lynch's decision to stop trading in the trust. Merrill Lynch does not allow advisers to buy and sell bitcoin for clients.

Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo are not offering wealth management and retail clients access to securities or derivatives like futures linked to the price of bitcoin or other digital currencies, according to spokespeople for both firms. And UBS does not support or facilitate the trading of cyrptocurrencies, according to a person familiar with the situation.

(More: State regulators warn investors about cryptocurrency dangers)

Because they aren't trading bitcoin doesn't mean the big banks have no interest in the digital currency, which last year soared in price from $970 at the start of the year to just below $20,000 before ending the year at just under $15,000.

UBS, for one, is keeping a watch on the burgeoning digital currency market along with blockchain, the ledger technology underpinning digital currencies.

"Cryptocurrencies are just a sliver of the new capabilities that blockchain technology brings to individuals, organizations and companies globally," said the source familiar with UBS.

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