Will there ever be more than 21 million Bitcoin?

Anthony Pompliano is the host of the Pomp Podcast, where he talks about all things crypto and Bitcoin. He is also widely followed on Twitter. On Twitter, Pompliano often makes proclamations about banks and central banking. One of his most know catchphrases is “Long Bitcoin, Short the Bankers“.



Incidentally one might make the case that Pompliano is indirectly participating in the banking industry through Morgon Creek Capital, which is an investor in Blokfi.

This morning BlockFi announced that they have raised a $50M Series C round of funding. The investment round was led by my partners and I at Morgan Creek Digital, alongside an amazing list of co-investors like Valar Ventures, CMT Digital, Castle Island Ventures, Winklevoss Capital, SCB 10X, Avon Ventures, Purple Arch Ventures, Kenetic Capital, HashKey, Michael Antonov, NBA player Matthew Dellavedova and two prestigious university endowments.

I will be joining BlockFi’s board of directors as part of this investment.

Pomp Newsletter, August 2020

What does BlockFi do? Well according to the newsletter:

For those that are unaware, let me break down what BlockFi does today, why I think this business can be one of the next multi-billion dollar fintech giants, and where they are going next. Today they have the following products:

  1. A lending product that allows an individual or organization to deposit crypto assets and take US dollar loans out against the collateral. This is popular for people who want USD liquidity, but would rather not sell their Bitcoin or other assets.
  2. An interest-bearing account where users can deposit Bitcoin, Ether, or stablecoins and earn up to 8.6% APY interest.
  3. A cryptocurrency exchange that has no transaction fees.

Sounds like a bank. Quacks like a bank. Must be a bank.

How to Create Bitcoin

I myself am a customer of BlockFi as I have a deposit there. I’m actually a quite content customer. I should also note that I have nothing against the banking profession or of Anthonly Pompliano being one. It’s an honorable profession in my opinion.

Anyways, the cryptocurrencies that I have deposited at BlockFi, as highlighted in the newsletter, carry interest. Interestingly, the interest rates offered through BlockFi are considerably higher than interest rates shown offered by banks.

It’s worth wondering how BlockFi pays its customers interest. There are a number of ways BlockFi can do this. One way would be to just buy cryptocurrencies and pay the customers. However, although this might be good for customer acquisitions, it does sound pretty costly.

A second way, would be to lend out the deposits. The problem here is that if you are accepting deposits by paying up to 8.4% interest, you have to find lenders that can pay even higher interests, to get a positive spread after factoring in delinquencies.

As described in the newsletter, BlockFi has a lending program whereby lenders have to deposit crypto as a collateral. It might come as a surprise that the collateral required to get a loan at BlockFi is double the amount that is being lent. Alas, we can assume that BlockFi is not in much need of writing off bad loans.

Bitcoin Printing

A third way for BlockFi to pay out interests would be to simply add the amount to their clients statements. After all, this is what banks to and banking is all about. The location of the so-called money printing does not happen at the central bank level but at the banks they service.

So what happens if BlockFi or any other banking institution built on top of Bitcoin does this (NB: I have know idea if this is the case, I’m just theorizing here)? Now there are more Bitcoins in circulation that have been created.

The question I ask myself is this. Even if the supply of Bitcoin is fixed, what is to say that the circulation of Bitcoin cannot be increased when lending and other banking related institutions, such as BlockFi, become more widely used?

How does BlockFi custody assets?

This question is answered on the BlockFi website:

When clients send crypto to their BlockFi account or purchase additional crypto within the BlockFi Interest Account, that digital asset is replaced with an obligation to return the same amount of that crypto plus any interest earned. In order to pay our clients crypto interest on a monthly basis and to meet withdrawal requests on a timely basis, we engage in a number of activities, including (1) keeping a material amount of digital assets available for withdrawal with third parties such as Gemini, BitGo, and Coinbase; (2) purchasing, as principal, SEC-regulated equities and predominately CFTC-regulated futures and (3) applying risk management to the lending activities in the institutional market. The credit risks to these institutions are mitigated by credit due diligence and/or collateral (such as cash, crypto, or other assets).

Digital currency is not legal tender, is not backed by any government, and the BlockFi Interest Account is not a bank account nor a brokerage account, and is not subject to FDIC, SIPC, or other similar protections. Interest rates, withdrawal limits, and fees are subject to change and are largely dictated by market conditions. This is not a risk-free product and loss of principal is possible.


How did Grayscale grow its AUM so fast?

When I write this, Grayscale Investments has about $9.8 billion in Assets under Management. This undoubtedly makes Grayscale one of the fasted growing asset management companies in history.

Established in 2013 by Digital Currency Group, Grayscale operates trusts that allow investors to invest in various cryptocurrencies. Trusts are open-end, which means that the number of units will change as investors move in or out of the funds.

The units in the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) and the Grayscale Etherium Trust (ETHE) are that are quoted on the OTCQX market. Both trade at a significant premium to the net asset value (NAV) per share. That in itself is intriguing, since Grayscale charges a 2% management fee on assets.

Why does the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust exist?

The Grayscale Bitcoin Trust is passive, as opposed to being an active fund. The investment policy is simply to hold Bitcoin. Passive funds are usually set up to track and index or some other benchmark. So you might ask yourself what is the point of setting having a fund that only holds one asset?

Why would somebody buy this as opposed to buying the underlying asset directly? How come that investors are willing to buy Grayscale Bitcoin Trust units at a premium to Bitcoin per unit and pay Grayscale a 2% annual fee, instead of just buying Bitcoin directly?

The answer is two-fold:

  1. Most institutional investors are simply not allowed to invest directly into Bitcoin. They have a strict mandate on what they are able to invest in. So, they can’t, even if they want to, get exposure to Bitcoin unless it is through a security, such as a trust unit. Eventually, we can expect the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust to convert into an ETF and the management fee to go down.
  2. Most investors into the Grayscale trust are not buying investing through the open market. They participate in something called an Offered Product. Accredited investors participate in the Offered Product and receive an allocation that values the trust units they receive on a NAV-basis, or Bitcoin per share. By participating in the Offered Product, they are also bound to selling restrictions and subject to significant limitations on resale and transferability.

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