Susquehanna and Other Trading Firms Show an Interest in Crypto
As big Wall Street banks and venture capital firms continue to debate whether and how to enter the cryptocurrency space, other types of financial institutions have been participating under the radar. Proprietary trading firms and other privately held trading firms have long been involved with crypto, and are recently entering the spotlight. Prop trading firms are usually partnerships that trade their own capital and thus are not completely beholden to the whims of clients and investors. With that freedom comes a certain creative license to experiment with alternative or exotic investments, including crypto.
A New York Times piece reports that the global trading and technology firm Susquehanna International Group has been quietly building up a crypto trading desk since 2016. The Philadelphia-based quantitative trading firm has a department of about a dozen people who buy and sell millions of dollars worth of crypto in private, over-the-counter (OTC) deals. Now Susquehanna is preparing to expand its crypto trading desk operations to a select group of its 500 clients.
Although in the last few years many hedge funds and trading firms have entered the crypto markets, Susquehanna seemingly has more money backing its crypto trading desk than other participants. Bart Smith, Susquehanna’s head of the digital assets group, stated: “We believe that this technology and this asset class is going to change some facet of financial services, and we think it is going to exist forever.” He reiterated that, although the firm believes Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will eventually have a wide variety of uses, currently Bitcoin is best as a form of digital gold. Smith also suggested that he can imagine Bitcoin or a competitor becoming the standard for digital payment methods.
Susquehanna first started trading Bitcoin in 2014, when Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss asked the firm if it wanted to get on board with a potential Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF). Regulators later rejected the ETF application, but Susquehanna hired a few traders.
The proposed expansion of its trading desk will include trading Bitcoin futures contracts and Ethereum (ETH) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH). Though the firm’s crypto trades are largely unregulated, it maintains security by using cold storage, keeping private keys in an offsite location that is disconnected from the firm’s computer systems. Susquehanna’s crypto trades have been successful so far, yet its trading thesis ultimately hinges on the question of whether crypto will someday be more than just a virtual commodity.
Susquehanna is not alone. Other prop trading firms have recently entered the crypto sector and are looking to hire more crypto traders. Akuna Capital and DRW Holdings, prop trading firms based in Chicago, have traded crypto for over a year and were some of the first to trade Bitcoin futures. Jump Trading has built an electronic platform for OTC crypto trading. It seems likely that trading firms will continue to immerse themselves in crypto and grow their crypto investment funds.