How bitcoin divides financial leaders

  • November 01 2017, 3:42pm EDT

“Hey, how do you feel about bitcoin?”

It’s a question that famous investors, CEOs and economists can’t escape. And collectively, the brightest minds in finance don’t agree. Is it a bubble? A safe haven for criminals? Or the most important disruptive technology of our time?

It depends who you ask.

Jamie Dimon famously called the cryptocurrency a fraud. Others think it’s in a bubble. But nobody doubts the alchemy by which bitcoin has been able to turn curiosity into rampant speculation. The price of a single bitcoin recently surpassed $6,000, pushing its market capitalization above $100 billion, according to Forbes. The return on a bitcoin purchased this time last year: 814%.

But the returns are part of the problem. Currencies need low levels of volatility to be effective, argues Ray Dalio, founder of investment firm Bridgewater Associates. And the anonymity provided by the blockchain is a major problem for regulators who don’t want to see the platform used for money laundering or funding terrorism.

If you or your clients decide to invest in bitcoin, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has some advice. “Pretend you've already lost your money,” he says.

One thing’s for certain — as long as the price of cryptocurrencies keep rising, the powers that be will be pestered by the bitcoin question.

Click through to read what finance’s best and brightest think about bitcoin.

Jamie Dimon, CEO, JPMorgan Chase

"It's worse than tulip bulbs. It won't end well. Someone is going to get killed," JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said at a conference in September, adding that he would fire any JPMorgan trader found trading bitcoin. “I’d fire them in a second. For two reasons: It’s against our rules, and they’re stupid. And both are dangerous.”

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Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and “Shark Tank” star

“If you're a true adventurer and you really wanna throw the Hail Mary, you might take 10%, put it in bitcoin or ethereum, but if you do that, you've gotta pretend you've already lost your money,” says Mark Cuban, adding, “It’s on fire, but I’d limit it to 10%.”

Abigail Johnson, CEO, Fidelity

“I’m one of the few standing before you today from a large financial services company that has not given up on digital currencies,” Fidelity CEO Abigail Johnson said at a blockchain conference in May. “We set up a small bitcoin and ethereum mining operation … that miraculously now is actually making a lot of money.”

Brian Moynihan, CEO, Bank of America

“Anonymous currency is something that has to be thought through,” says BofA CEO Brian Moynihan. “You don’t want large amounts of money to travel without attribution, and that’s what this banking system does for this country and the world.”

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Sergio Ermotti, CEO, UBS

“I believe there is a future for blockchain technology, and technology will play a big role in changing and reshaping our industry," says Sergio Ermotti, CEO of UBS.

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs

“Still thinking about #Bitcoin. No conclusion—not endorsing/rejecting. Know that folks were skeptical when paper money displaced gold,” Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted in early October.

Carolyn Wilkins, senior deputy governor, Bank of Canada

“Money really does have to be a medium of exchange, a store of value — and the digital currencies that are out there right now don’t fulfill them — bitcoin doesn’t, none of them do,” says Carolyn Wilkins, Senior Deputy Governor for the Bank of Canada.

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Fan Bao, CEO, China Renaissance

“I think we have to separate bitcoin from the blockchain. Blockchain is very exciting technology. Probably the most important disruptive technology in the financial services industry,” says Fan Bao, CEO of China Renaissance. “But bitcoin is obviously just one application of that. Obviously right now it’s getting a little bit hot … a little bit bubblish.”

Larry Fink, CEO, Blackrock

"Bitcoin just shows you how much demand for money laundering there is in the world," says Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock. "That's all it is."

Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the Federal Reserve

“Bitcoin is an attempt to replace fiat currency and evade regulation and government intervention. I don’t think that’s going to be a success,” says Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

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Christine Lagarde, managing director, IMF

“Virtual currencies such as bitcoin pose little or no challenge to the existing order of fiat currencies and central banks,” says Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund. “They are too volatile, too risky, too energy intensive, and because the underlying technologies are not yet scalable. Many are too opaque for regulators; and some have been hacked.”

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft

“Bitcoin is better than currency in that you don’t have to be physically in the same place and, of course, for large transactions, currency can get pretty inconvenient,” says Bill Gates.

Mario Draghi, president, European Central Bank

“As far as bitcoins and cryptocurrencies are concerned, we don't think the technology is mature for our consideration," says Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank. "One of the lessons of the great financial crisis is that financial innovation, in this case it's financial and technology innovation ... should be embraced with lots of attention to its potential risks.”

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Ray Dalio, founder, Bridgewater Associates

"It's not an effective storehold of wealth because it has volatility to it, unlike gold," says Ray Dalio, founder of investment firm Bridgewater Associates. “Bitcoin is a highly speculative market. Bitcoin is a bubble."

James Gorman, CEO, Morgan Stanley

“[Bitcoin is] certainly something more than just a fad,” says James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley. “It’s obviously highly speculative but it’s not something that’s inherently bad. It’s a natural consequence of the whole blockchain technology.”

Michael Corbat, CEO, Citigroup

“When I look at bitcoin itself, I struggle a bit. What is it? Is it a currency? I don't necessarily think it is. Is it a speculative investment? Probably more so,” says Michael Corbat, CEO of Citigroup. “And if you actually look at some of the primary uses of bitcoin, it's tax evasion, it's money laundering.”

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David McKay, CEO, Royal Bank of Canada

“There’s so many elements of a bitcoin that don’t convene to our current perspective on what a unit of currency should do," says David McKay, CEO of Royal Bank of Canada. “There are some real concerns about how the bitcoin is being used that we have to resolve."