Bitcoin just got a vote of confidence from Switzerland's legendary banking system

Key Points
  • Falcon Private Bank said Wednesday it received approval from a Swiss regulator to offer bitcoin products.
  • This is the first time the Swiss regulator has done so.
  • The decision could pave the way for other global regulators to approve bitcoin products.
A Bitcoin conference in New York.
Getty Images

Switzerland's financial markets regulator has approved the first Swiss private bank for asset management, potentially paving the way for other global banks to offer digital currency products.

Zurich-based Falcon Private Bank announced Wednesday that the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, or FINMA, gave the bank the green light on managing assets based on the blockchain technology behind bitcoin and other digital currencies.

"People here are thinking this is beyond bitcoin. This is a new chapter in how we exchange money. As a financial services partner, I think we have to become part of that strategy," Arthur Vayloyan, global head of products and services at Falcon, told CNBC in a phone interview.

He said the company began officially discussing bitcoin asset management in January, applied for regulator approval on June 23 and received it Tuesday. Falcon has 14.6 billion Swiss francs ($15.13 billion) in client assets and has offices in Zurich, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and London.

"As a rule, FINMA never comments on individual companies," the regulator's spokesman, Vincent Mathys, told CNBC.

Falcon will access bitcoin through Swiss-based digital currency broker Bitcoin Suisse.

The CEO of Bitcoin Suisse, Niklas Nikolajsen, told CNBC in a phone interview that contrary to many expectations, the Swiss regulator was more concerned about consumer protection than bitcoin's potential use for illegal activities.

"I would assume it would not be long before the rest of the banking sector will follow suit," Nikolajsen said. "The genie is out of the bottle and crypto assets bring a value proposition that you can't ignore."

The Bank of England declined to comment. In the U.S., the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency declined to comment.

Switzerland is known for being a global leader in banking practices. The country is also one of the friendliest to digital currency enthusiasts. Its Zug region has already been dubbed "Crypto Valley" for the number of digital currency businesses located there.

Swiss firm MME was the legal advisor and PricewaterhouseCoopers was the auditor in the approval process.

A Bitcoin ATM in the lobby of Falcon Private Bank’s headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
Source: Falcon Private Bank

Falcon has installed a bitcoin ATM in its Zurich headquarters lobby that allows clients to withdraw bitcoin to their phones. As a private bank, Falcon has an official minimum of 2 million Swiss francs for clients, but Vayloyan said the firm could consider clients with assets of more than several thousand francs.