Goldman Sachs CFO says bank is working on bitcoin derivative for clients

Key Points
  • Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer Martin Chavez called a report that the bank was ditching plans to launch a cryptocurrency trading desk "fake news." 
  • Chavez says the bank is working on a bitcoin derivative known as a "non-deliverable forward," because of demand from clients. 
  • He looked to knock down the report about the banking dialing back plans, but also make clear that there's never been a timeline for this effort. 
A woman passes in front of a Bitcoin exchange shop.
Artur Widak | NurPhoto | Getty Images

A top Goldman Sachs executive looked to clear the air Thursday about the bank's cryptocurrency ambitions after reports that it was abandoning plans to open a trading desk for cryptocurrencies.

"I never thought I would hear myself use this term but I really have to describe that news as fake news," Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer Martin Chavez said on stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference in San Francisco.

The CFO said Goldman is working on a type of derivative for bitcoin because "clients want it."

"The next stage of the exploration is what we call non-deliverable forwards, these are over the counter derivatives, they're settled in U.S. dollars and the reference price is the bitcoin-U.S. dollar price established by a set of exchanges," Chavez said.

Goldman Sachs reportedly ditches plans to trade cryptocurrencies
Goldman Sachs reportedly ditches plans to trade cryptocurrencies

The price of bitcoin and other top cryptocurrencies tumbled after the initial report by Business Insider earlier this week. The Wall Street giant has been considering the launch of some sort of cryptocurrency option for clients for the past year. But it's never been quite clear just what the bank was planning.

"In response to client interest in digital currencies, we are exploring how best to serve them in this space," a Goldman spokeswoman told CNBC in October.

The bank's outgoing CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted in October that Goldman was "still thinking about bitcoin," and that the bank was "not endorsing/rejecting."

Chavez on Thursday looked to knock down this week's report about the bank dialing back plans, but also make clear that there's never been a timeline for this effort.

"When we talked about exploring digital assets that it was going to be exploration that would be evolving over time," Chavez said. "Maybe someone who was thinking about our activities here got very excited that we would be making markets as principal and physical bitcoin, and as they got into it they realized part of the evolution but its not here yet."

Goldman Sachs has been clearing bitcoin-linked futures contracts offered by the CBOE and CME since May, and is providing clients liquidity for those futures.

As for physical bitcoin, Goldman is not quite there. There needs to be a safe custody solution before the bank can move forward, the bank's CFO said.

"Physical bitcoin is something tremendously interesting, and tremendously challenging," he said. "From the perspective of custody, we don't yet see an institutional-grade custodial solution for bitcoin, we're interested in having that exist and it's a long road."

Issues with bitcoin's volatility, security, and where to store the actual assets have all been barriers to entry for institutional investors. The possibility of establishments like Goldman entering the market have boosted sentiment, and prices in the past year.

Bitcoin has struggled to recover to its high near $20,000 hit in December, and was trading near $6,400 Thursday. The value of the entire cryptocurrency market has dropped by more than 65 percent this year, according to data from

— CNBC's Sally Shin contributed to this report.