Yonhap, a mainstream media outlet in South Korea, reported that commercial banks in the country are holding nearly $2 billion USD worth of cryptocurrencies.
Commercial Banks Own More Bitcoin Than Exchanges
Although the digital asset holdings of regulated financial institutions in South Korea only account for 8% of their total assets under brokerage, local publications reported the fact that digital assets, as an emerging asset class, already accounts for a portion of the holdings of commercial banks is significant.
“The amount of crypto-asset investment is not really big, compared with other equity markets, and local financial institutions’ exposure to possible risks of digital assets is insignificant. Against this backdrop, we expect crypto-assets to have a limited impact on the South Korean financial market.”
In April 2018, it was reported that South Korea’s biggest crypto exchange Bithumb, held more than $6 billion in user funds stored in cryptocurrencies. Although, this figure was from when the valuation of the crypto market reached $900 billion, and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin achieved a new all-time high at over $20,000.
Due to its status as a publicly listed company in the South Korean stock market, Bithumb is required by local authorities to disclose their holdings and revenues to investors in the public market.
Fun fact: South Korea’s second biggest cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb is the only publicly listed cryptocurrency exchange in the world, so it’s possible to see its numbers.
As of Dec 2017, Bithumb held $6 billion in user funds, mostly in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and Ether.
— Joseph Young (@iamjosephyoung) May 13, 2018
Hence, given the substantial decline in the valuation of major digital assets since December of 2017, the holdings of the country’s biggest crypto exchange are now likely in the $1 billion region.
As of July, commercial banks in South Korea hold more in digital assets that the country’s biggest crypto exchange in Bithumb.
While their holdings of digital assets are substantially smaller than its holdings in traditional assets like bonds and stocks, the fact that commercial banks remain as the largest holders of cryptocurrencies is significant, especially in the cryptocurrency industry still at its infancy and growing at an exponential rate.
Banks in South Korea are More Enthusiastic Towards Digital Assets Than Other Regions
Commercial banks in South Korea have generally been more enthusiastic towards cryptocurrencies, digital assets and the blockchain technology than banks in other regions.
For instance, Shinhan, the second largest bank in South Korea has been developing bitcoin wallets for its clientele and a traditional finance industry. More to that, banks like Shinhan partnered with blockchain projects such as Ripple to commercialize and implement the blockchain across industries outside of finance.
Shinhan said in December 2017:
“Shinhan is testing a virtual bitcoin vault platform wherein the private keys of bitcoin addresses and wallets are managed and issued by the bank. The bank intends to provide the vault service for free and charge a fee for withdrawals.”
Currently, it is difficult to conclude the motive of large-scale commercial banks in South Korea holding digital assets as long-term investments or because they are holding billions of dollars in cryptocurrencies on behalf of exchanges.
The government of South Korea disclosed its intent to regulate crypto exchanges and blockchain startups in an industry that will be recognized by the congress and overseen by a newly drafted regulatory framework and in the upcoming months, the cryptocurrency sector of South Korea is expected to be acknowledged as a legitimate industry.
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