South Korea’s biggest internet company Naver has joined the race to acquire a stake in Bithumb digital currency exchange. According to local reports, it intends to integrate digital currencies in its payment services. The exchange has reportedly attracted the interest of global giants including Wall Street banks Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan.
Naver, which is Korea’s leading search engine, has been in discussions over the acquisition with Vidente, the minority owner of Bithumb Korea, as the Maeil Business Newspaper reports. Vidente is also the majority shareholder of Bithumb Holdings, the parent company of the exchange.
As per the newspaper, Naver views the Bithumb acquisition as key to strengthening its fintech subsidiary, Naver Financial. It will start by integrating digital currency payments to Naver Pay, allowing it to cement its position in the country’s competitive fintech market.
The Seongnam-based company will then expand the digital currency products to Japan via LINE, the popular mobile messenger service it operates. LINE has been very active in the digital currency sector and currently operates its own exchange, BITFRONT.
Naver becomes the latest multinational to reportedly be eyeing a stake in Bithumb, South Korea’s second-largest exchange after Upbit. Bithumb has been on sale for several months now. However, in the past few years, it has been facing legal issues that have kept investors at bay. This has changed this year, attracting investors from across Asia and the United States.
One of the most high-profile companies reportedly seeking to purchase a stake in Bithumb is Morgan Stanley. Local reports have indicated that the Wall Street investment bank is already in negotiations with Vidente. Morgan Stanley recently launched three digital currency funds, becoming the first bank in the U.S to offer such a product. Insiders have revealed that purchasing a stake in Korea’s oldest exchange is the next step for the New York bank.
If Morgan Stanley is indeed interested in purchasing a stake in Bithumb, it will have to compete with other global giants, The Korea Times reports. They include Germany’s largest bank Deutsche Bank, America’s largest bank JPMorgan, Visa, ‘an affiliate of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange,’ and Binance. None of these companies have officially confirmed their interest in the exchange, however.
In the past, Huobi had emerged as the most likely to purchase Bithumb. It had reportedly offered 400 billion won ($353 million) for the exchange. This deal fell through, but shortly after, Japanese video gaming firm Nexon reportedly expressed interest. Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju had reportedly bid 500 billion won ($460 million) for the exchange. Vidente would later come out to claim that it had decided not to sell its stake.
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