Bitcoin 'nerds' give way to Wall Street suits at digital currency conference

Key Points
  • Two major digital currency conferences came to New York this week.
  • More investors and business people attended than expected for a technology-focused conference, attendees said.
  • Big U.S. financial institutions announced more involvement in the digital currency industry this week.
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Here are three big risks to the bitcoin rally: Trader

The world of finance is getting so interested in bitcoin that it's no longer just the land of coders.

"At this conference, one thing I immediately noticed, I have a hard time finding the nerd table," said Joseph Poon, founder of the Bitcoin Lightning Network, a system for digital payments. He was speaking on the sidelines of the Token Summit in New York, a conference Thursday that looked at the application of bitcoin's blockchain technology to business.

"For the past five years, it's always been easy to find the nerd table because it's everywhere. The conference was the nerd table. Now it seems like it's all ambassadors, and it's basically like I can only find like 10 people I can recognize here," Poon said.

Wall Street is getting more invested in digital currencies and just in time for Bitcoin to hit a record high. That may not be a coincidence.

Bitcoin has more than doubled in price this year and briefly surged to a record of $2,791.70 Thursday, before briefly erasing $400. The gains come with increased interest in digital currencies, or tokens. is a kind of token for which transactions are recorded in a secure accounting system called blockchain.

What's driving bitcoin to new all-time highs
What's driving bitcoin to new all-time highs

The demand to attend the Token Summit exceeded organizer William Mougayar's own expectation of 300 — there were as many on the waiting list before he closed it, he said.

He began organizing the Token Summit in December, and out of 650 registrants from 44 countries he said about a quarter were involved with the business and financing side. "I was surprised," he said.

Earlier in the week at another New York digital currency conference, Consensus, Fidelity announced it will allow clients to see bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies held on Coinbase on its website, according to a Reuters report.

Fidelity CEO Abigail Johnson said in the report that the asset manager has also allowed employees to use bitcoin to pay in the firm's cafeteria.

"They basically let the world know they are looking at it," Nick Kirk, formerly of IBM Research and an investor in cryptocurrencies, said from the Token Summit. "The smart money is starting to come in now."

Kirk said he recently met with proprietary trading firms from Chicago that are interested in digital currencies.

It's not just Fidelity that's getting more public about their interest in digital currencies and the underlying blockchain technology. One currency in particular, ethereum, has gained more than 2,000 percent this year because investors see its potential in paving the way for a new, decentralized internet.

Last week, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance announced 86 new members of the standards-setting development group, including financial communications company Broadridge, clearinghouse DTCC and consulting firm Deloitte. JPMorgan, Intel and Microsoft were among the founding group.

JPMorgan on Monday also announced at the Consensus conference that the bank is working with the makers of a digital currency called zcash to increase privacy for settlement of transactions on a blockchain, according to CoinDesk, the conference host.

At Consensus "there were a lot of suits," David Vorick, co-founder and CEO of Sia, a cloud computing company based on blockchain, said of his experience at Consensus. "It just felt like everybody was there doing business. Even myself. I was wearing a suit, and that's not my natural state of being."

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