The tech giant has put its weight behind a so-called “stablecoin,” a digital token that, in principle, is tied to an existing government-backed currency, in order to reduce the volatility associated with virtual currencies.
In this case, the cryptocurrency, called “Stronghold USD,” is backed by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-insured U.S. dollars, IBM said Tuesday, with reserves being held by blockchain-focused asset manager Prime Trust.
IBM said it will experiment with the virtual greenback to explore ways of helping banks and other financial institutions process payments faster and more securely. The aim of stablecoins is to reduce the volatility that is commonplace in the cryptocurrency market.
But it follows much controversy surrounding a well-known stablecoin known as tether, which has been accused of being used to prop-up the price of bitcoin during last year’s spike in value.
Tether is also a contentious subject in the cryptocurrency world due to concerns surrounding its U.S. dollar reserves. The fear is that Tether Limited, the company behind the tether coin, does not hold enough dollars to account for the number of tokens in circulation.
The move marks a further push by the decades-old IT powerhouse into the world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Blockchain networks are the virtual ledgers on which cryptocurrency transactions are recorded.
Earlier this year, IBM teamed up with environmental tech start-up Veridium to turn carbon credits — tradable instruments aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions — into digital tokens. The company also uses blockchain firm Stellar's digital tokens, lumens, to enable faster payments between a consortium of banks.
IBM said Stronghold’s stablecoin will rely on the platform developed by Stellar, which was co-founded by former Ripple executive Jed McCaleb in 2014.
Big Blue's blockchain is different to the original one that underpins bitcoin. Whereas the bitcoin blockchain is public and allows anyone to participate, IBM’s only allows a certain number of trusted parties to use it.
The entire cryptocurrency market is currently worth more than $270 billion, according to industry website CoinMarketCap. It has seen a significant downturn since the start of the year, with the world’s best-known digital currency, bitcoin, falling steeply from its record high near $20,000 late last year to around $6,700 as of Tuesday.