This past weekend, Barclays ran the press circuit to tout their involvement in Bitcoin and blockchain technologies. The first story to come out was from the Sunday Times, it was followed by stories on the Daily Mail, Arstechnica and around the web.
The narrative that was being floated after re-writes by multiple publications, was that Barclays will be accepting bitcoin on behalf of charities, that is, until CryptoCoinsNews reported that the original story was false and that the Barclays bank wouldn’t be accepting bitcoin. Things got then more confusing. After the CCN article came out, the press circuit continued and the Wall Street Journal put out an article that seemed to confirm the original Sunday Times article, which was never retracted.
We have talked to Barclays multiple times, as well as the Sunday Times author and think we can clear a few things up. First, the CCN article is only half correct. Barclays is not accepting bitcoin as reported by the Daily Mail, Arstechnica and others. The CCN article got that part correct. Where it is wrong, is its insistence that the Sunday Times article is incorrect as well.
Barclays made it very clear to me that they have no problem with the Sunday Times article, except that it was possibly a little vague, leading to some incorrect interpretations. The Sunday Times never says Barclays will be accepting bitcoin, only that they plan to “[allow] people to make donations to charities in bitcoin.” I asked Barclays to specifically confirm or deny that quote, and they did not deny it. The representative said specifically that they “had no issue with” the Sunday Times article, and only had issues with how later articles interpreted it.
Barclays does plan to help charities accept bitcoin, although they made it very clear that they will not be transferring or holding any bitcoins themselves.
“We will be advising charities on how to use bitcoin, to make it work for them, to use it for fundraising and other activities, but none of that is going through any Barclays system, we don’t hold or accept bitcoin. [. . .] We are advising a charity on how to accept or use and make sense of the technology.”
So how will they be helping charities accept bitcoin? Some of the answer can be found in the Wall Street Journal article that came out a few days ago. In that article, it is stated that the unnamed exchange mentioned in the Sunday Times article is Safello and that the bitcoin exchange will be partnering with Barclays. The representative we talked to stopped short of calling it a partnership and described it more as a mentorship. Safello is a part of their accelerator program that includes other FinTech companies.
She also said that the two experimental labs mentioned in many of the articles function in a consultary advisory role, and that may be the reason for some of the confusion. That being said, Barclays has repeatedly demonstrated its interest in digital currencies and blockchain technology. Not only is there this recent announcement, but they were also recently linked to Ethereum. Their favorable view of blockchain technologies was something the representative stressed to me. As many other financial companies have stated, they are more interested in what blockchain technologies can create than the actual bitcoin cryptocurrency.
“We are interested in the technology. it is the underlying blockchain technology that interests us more than the cryptocurrency. We are quite excited about the potential and that is why we have these labs that are sort of working with other companies.”
To summarize: Barclays is not “accepting” bitcoin, but they are working with at least one exchange in a mentorship role and are educating charities about how they can accept bitcoin, part of that education could include the exchange Safello, along with the other startups Barclays is mentoring. Barclays believes that the regulation situation in the UK is such that it cannot accept or store bitcoin as a bank, but it is very open about its bullish stance on the technology behind bitcoin.
So that is it. It took nearly a week, but that is the actual story, at least according to my talks with Barclays. They won’t be accepting bitcoin, because they can’t, but they are experimenting with it, and they are working with companies in the space and they are educating charities about bitcoin, including on how they can accept it. That is still good news, it just stops a bit short of the early reports.
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