I just can’t stop thinking about how dumb these Dimon quotes are. In case you missed it, the CEO of JP Morgan Jamie Dimon had harsh words for Bitcoin yesterday.
He, during a Barclays conference, called it a “fraud … worse than tulip bulbs, it won’t end well” and that any JPMorgan “trader trading Bitcoin” will be “fired for being stupid.”
Later in the day during an interview at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference, he said Bitcoin “is just not a real thing, eventually, it will be closed.”
“Someone’s going to get killed and then the government’s going to come down,” he said. “You just saw in China, governments like to control their money supply.”
Just the way he incoherently is babbling against Bitcoin belies his lack of understanding or even basic research on what its strengths, weaknesses, history, and capabilities are.
This reminds me of a time in my career I spent meeting with newspapers, trying to get them to see the writing on the wall with blogging. For a period of time, in between my career transition as a technology consultant and software developer into a digital journalist, I thought I could straddle the line between both worlds and talk to newspaper publishers, my clients at the time, about the power and opportunity for digital publishing.
On more than one occasion, I sat in a room with an elder suit who patiently listened to my pitch, and then when I was done and opened up for questions dismissively waved his hands.
“Son, our company has been around for over a hundred years,” they’d say, as if they were all reading from the same script. “This internet thing is a blip on the radar. We’ll outlast it.”
It’s hilarious to imagine that level of ignorance now that all publishing is digital publishing, but this was the honest attitude of heritage publishers at the time.
… and look at the type of world we live in with digital publishing. The market landscape is a mix of heritage media that made the transition (like the Washington Post and your local TV affiliates, for instance), and new performers that found out how to bootstrap and thrive in the new landscape (like the Mashable’s and Buzzfeed’s of the world). The roads they took to get there are littered with the bodies of the companies that I wasn’t persistent or talented enough to convince that the internet wasn’t a fad, plus thousands of others.
That the CEO of JP Morgan is claiming that “Bitcoin is a fraud” is rich, coming from the company who, amongst many other banks, represented highly risky financial instruments as safe enough that when they inevitably collapsed (as many predicted they would), the government felt compelled to bail them out to the tune of trillions. It’s also particularly ironic that the same company calling one of the most widely admired financial tech advancements in history a fraud has had such a poor moral and ethical compass as to what constitutes non-criminal behavior, they’ve been forced to pay over $28 billion in fines since that bailout.
Why would he make these explosive statements about Bitcoin, particularly when his company is openly exploring blockchain technology and how to apply it to their work, particularly when one of their former executives (Blythe Masters) has been so famously pro-Bitcoin? Well, there are a few things at play here.
Profits are down 20%. This is probably the biggest thing. Dimon, on many occasions, has expressed his ambivalent disdain for Bitcoin, but he’s saved the unloading of both shotgun barrels for today. The theory some analysts have expressed to me is that there are a great many bitcoin-friendly IRA and 401k options popping up amongst JP Morgan’s competition, an area where they’ve been loathe to go. It’s not a reach to speculate that during one of the most notable meteoric times for cryptocurrencies, people are moving their accounts away from JP Morgan Chase to more crypto-friendly options and contributing to the shortfall.
JP Morgan is under the mistaken impression, as a company, that you can divorce the blockchain from Bitcoin. I’ve been averse to going too deep on this topic publicly because several companies I respect also hold this opinion (including the company that dubbed me a futurist, IBM). In speaking to members of JP Morgan’s fintech innovation team about this news item last night, they expressed the opinion that they view crypto as an “outgrowth technology” of the blockchain. They said this with such conviction that I had to do a sanity check and make sure there wasn’t some obscure historical reference to the term “blockchain” pre-Satoshi Nakamoto. Turns out, I’m not insane, and JP Morgan is dead wrong. Bitcoin is the reference architecture for blockchain. Removing tokenization and crypto components from blockchain strip out key features that make the technology as powerful and compelling as it is (expositing on this topic is something I’m happy to do at length, but would distract from the topic of this post. If you see me in a bar, come with a nice whiskey neat and ask me this question, and block off the rest of your night).
General denial. Just as blogs didn’t really kill off the idea of the media company, blockchain and bitcoin don’t make obsolete the concept of banks. Very much like the media landscape, however, there is going to be a very drastic redefinition of what banking means. This is inevitable. It probably means the death of multimillion dollar CEOs of international banking conglomerates, and he’s feeling general revulsion at the concept of the floor dropping out from underneath him. More on these concepts later – they’re much deeper than the analysis on this news event will allow for exposition on, but it’s a transformation I’m obviously watching closely, and developing some specific predictions around.
I started writing this around 9 AM, when markets were plummeting down below $4,300 to the $3,750 range. As I’m typing this around 3 PM, markets are rebounding, now coming back closer to $3,840. It’s unfortunate that the opinion of one man has shaken confidence as much as it has, but this is one of the effects of disintermediation between experienced investors and the buckets of money they manage.
As they used to say about all Microsoft software in the ’90s: it’s not a bug, it’s an undocumented feature.