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Cryptocurrency bulls have been hopeful that the U.S. securities regulator will grant the first bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) this year — but they've been left disappointed by a series of rejections and postponements.
Bill Barhydt, chief executive of bitcoin payment start-up Abra, said that's because, so far, the applicants haven't fit the financial archetype that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is looking for.
"I think the issue with the SEC, quite frankly, is that the people who are doing the applications don't fit mold of who the SEC is used to approving," Barhydt told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Tuesday.
"I used to work for Goldman Sachs, but if you look at how I'm dressed you probably wouldn't know it. So I probably, unfortunately, couldn't go like I am here to a meeting at the SEC to say I'm applying for the ability to issue an ETF. "
So far this year, the U.S. financial watchdog has rejected a fund proposed by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, postponed a conclusion on whether to greenlight VanEck and Solid X's proposed ETF and slapped down several bitcoin ETF proposals.
Advocates of cryptocurrencies believe that institutional interest in the space is a vital step toward transforming it into a mainstream industry trusted by both big banks and consumers. But a huge downturn in prices over the last year has lowered optimism significantly over whether that institutional involvement will come any time soon, as volatile moves in prices are likely to put off large financial firms.
Bitcoin hit headlines in late 2017 when it soared to an all-time high close to $20,000, but the cryptocurrency has shed a significant chunk of those gains since, and was trading around the $7,300 level as of Tuesday.
There is some hope that institutions are warming to the bitcoin world. In July, a source told CNBC that BlackRock had formed a working group that was looking into cryptocurrencies and blockchain, the technology that underpins them, as early as 2015.
Abra's Barhydt said it would take an applicant who "looks, feels and smells" the way the SEC wants them to in order for an ETF application to win approval. He suggested that an application from a trusted financial institution would likely win favor with the commission, more so than a start-up or lesser-known firm.
As to when the SEC might finally allow a bitcoin ETF, Barhydt said he would "bet" on one garnering regulatory backing within a year. "It's going to happen in the next year, I would actually make a bet on it," he said. "There is too much demand for it."
The commission will rule on whether to approve or disapprove the VanEck SolidX Bitcoin Trust ETF on September 30.