Suitability concerns spur Merrill Lynch to ban BTC fund, futures trading

Bank of America’s brokerage arm Merrill Lynch has barred its roughly 17,000 financial advisers from buying SegWit1x (BTC)-related investments on behalf of their clients.

The Wall Street brokerage issued an internal memo last December informing its brokers that they are forbidden from pitching BTC-related investments, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the matter. The financial advisers are also banned from executing client trading in the Grayscale Investment Trust Bitcoin fund (GBTC).

“The decision to close GBTC to new purchases is driven by concerns pertaining to suitability and eligibility standards of this product,” according to the memo reviewed by the news outlet.

Under the new policies, clients with existing positions in the GBTC are allowed to maintain their brokerage accounts, but clients with fee-based advisory accounts will have to sell their holdings in the Bitcoin fund.

The new policies went into effect last Dec. 8, 2017, several days before the scheduled launch of the first Bitcoin futures. Merrill Lynch already banned access to the bitcoin futures that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the Chicago Board Options Exchange (Cboe) launched in mid-December.

The Bitcoin Investment Trust, which is traded over the counter, is described as an open-ended trust that is invested exclusively in Bitcoin and derives its value from the price of the cryptocurrency. GBTC is one of the cryptocurrency funds offered by Barry Silbert’s Grayscale Investments, alongside Ethereum Classic Investment Trust and ZCash Investment Trust.

Merrill Lynch’s ban on Bitcoin-related investment trading is the latest sign that many of the too-big-to-fail Wall Street giants are still on the safe side when it comes to dealing with cryptocurrencies, although there are some brokerages that are already examining the possibility of launching a trading operation involving BTC in response to the increased interest among their clients.

Case in point is JPMorgan Chase, which is reportedly considering whether to provide its clients access to CME’s BTC product through its futures-brokerage unit, even though its chief executive remains to be an outspoken critic of the cryptocurrency. Last year, Dimon infamously called BTC a “fraud” that will eventually “blow up,” and even went as far as threatening to fire “in a second” any JPMorgan trader who will deal with the cryptocurrency.

Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, has started looking at building “a full-fledged team of traders and sales people” for its own trading operation, according to reports.

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