First revealed last September, Kraken is quietly hard at work gearing up to launch Kraken Bank. This exciting new venture is helping to shape the landscape for both Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency services – and the banking industry – well into the future.
While we can’t reveal all the details yet, we sat down with Kraken Bank CEO David Kinitsky to get a glimpse into how he’s leading the charge to ensure the next generation of financial firms are built with the next generation of assets in mind.
David brings more than 15 years of experience in cryptocurrency and financial services. He helped launch a streak of innovations with Grayscale, Fidelity, Circle, SecondMarket, and the private investment funds he’s managed.
He’s full of industry knowledge and always adds a colorful perspective to the conversation. Enjoy!
Hi David! You worked at some of the biggest names in the industry. How did you get into crypto, what were those experiences like?
I first came across Bitcoin when I was working at a company called SecondMarket, which would become Digital Currency Group, one of the largest players in this industry. SecondMarket built marketplaces for illiquid, esoteric, and emerging assets. Eventually we got into Bitcoin and sold the legacy business to NASDAQ.
I took the lead in setting up Grayscale, structuring it’s first and flagship product – the Bitcoin Investment Trust – and served as GM of the business, which I ran for the next couple years. Today, Grayscale is the largest digital asset manager in the world with some $25-30 billion assets under management. (Big shout out to the team over there that took the baton, executed with remarkable consistency, and grew it into the juggernaut it is today.)
I left Grayscale to join Fidelity as their first digital asset hire, helping them to develop their strategy in the crypto space. I also ran a proprietary crypto fund there as a co-portfolio manager alongside the team that now runs Castle Island Ventures, an early stage VC firm focused on crypto.
My next stop was at Circle where I helped to restructure their business, refocus it around their USDC stablecoin, and relaunch with their payments/treasury platform.
Finally, when I saw Kraken pursuing the SPDI bank, I jumped at the opportunity and went all in, moving along with my family to Wyoming where the bank is based. It’s important infrastructure for Bitcoin and crypto, and is also reshaping traditional banking and financial services.
There is a lot of discussion about regulating cryptocurrencies. What do you find fascinating about bitcoin in this respect and how do you look at regulation of the space?
There’s not just a lot of discussion about regulating, there’s real regulating going on already. I sometimes hear this misunderstanding that crypto is not regulated. It’s regulated in the same way we regulate most financial services and other industries – by regulating the services providers and the actions taken by users. Just look at crypto companies and the licensure/registrations they maintain.
We should want to be especially smart about how we regulate these crypto companies as compared to their more traditional counterparts. There’s a key distinction to consider. In traditional financial services – say banking or brokerage or whatever – end users have no other alternative to access these services. They can’t opt out. If you want to send money across space and time, you need a bank or other financial service provider. Crypto is different. Users can receive, hold, and send their own assets themselves. It may be clunky for some, but they can do it. So there is some level of burden above which users will just not use the key nexus through which regulation is enforced. And the first ones to leave are the “bad guys” you want to be able to oversee.
I’ll also say that crypto provides new tools and abilities. For example, financial institutions can incorporate verifiable proof of reserves or to build other auditable assurances into their operations to ensure they’re solvent and doing what they say they are.
I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to thread the needle on the right regulation in the long term, and just hope we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot nearer term.
What about political and public opinion? How is Bitcoin and crypto currently being viewed and how might that affect its status and regulation?
It’s a good question. Absolutely foundational. After all, law and regulation arise out of policy objectives that take into account certain cost-benefit tradeoffs. Historically, we haven’t been able to have these serious conversations about Bitcoin or crypto here in the US because of some absolutist or ill-informed opinions.
The most common is that there’s no use case other than speculation or illicit activity, and no reason to make any accommodations within the existing system. I do think that more recently – especially in this macro environment – there’s an increasing appreciation for the benefits that Bitcoin provides as a store of value and in terms of censorship resistance, as well as an openness to the other opportunities crypto could create in the future. There’s also starting to be some recognition that Bitcoin and crypto will continue to operate regardless, and will simply do so outside of the existing financial system if we don’t pave a path for them within it.
Another is that they’re necessarily adversarial to America somehow, or simply incompatible with our laws, regulation, and institutions. But, Bitcoin is as American as apple pie. Its values are exactly the same as American values – free speech, free association, free enterprise, individual liberty, property rights, and so on – all the principles this country was founded on and the engines for growth throughout our history. And either way, the fact is that Bitcoin exists and other countries are getting involved. It’ll be critical that the U.S. maintain a position in this emerging industry to ensure its global competitiveness and national economic security.
What is it about Kraken Bank that makes this a venture worth building?
I do actually think that this initiative has some symbiotic elements to it, but – and maybe it’s gauche to say these days – we’re building Kraken Bank because it achieves some very clear organizational objectives of ours.
It provides the business with better legal/regulatory positioning, improved infrastructure and resultant customer experience, and more product/market opportunities. More broadly, it supports Kraken’s mission of promoting crypto adoption to enable more financial freedom, by seamlessly connecting crypto all the way down to the bottom of the financial services stack, which is entirely buttressed by banking. It puts us in a position to help shape the future of banking and it incorporates crypto.
Finally, I’m excited to help develop the ecosystem right here in Wyoming. Banks have always played important roles and re-invested within their communities. Kraken will be no different. We’re not carpetbaggers. We want to be connected to communities where, and with which, we conduct business – and to build something special together.
Want to help? Kraken and Kraken Bank are actively hiring, with new jobs posted periodically on the company’s careers page. If you don’t see a role at the bank that’s right for you today, stay tuned for more listings soon!
Thank you David.
-The Kraken Team