Ethereum: Here Come The Big Banks

The Ethereum protocol, described by some in the cryptocurrency community as a new rival or sibling for frontrunner technology Bitcoin, is supported by its 22 year old founder Vitalik Buterin, other co-founders including Toronto Stock Exchange chief digital officer Anthony Di Iorio, and a varied board of special advisors and technical experts who report directly to the Swiss-based Ethereum Foundation.

Ethereum also receives input from Roman Mandeleil, who coded the protocol's Java implementation and comes from a former career at IBM Labs. Mandeleil is the CEO and founder of ether.camp, the protocol's most popular block and contract explorer.

According to ethstats.net, Ethereum is now on block #2,048,841. Unlike Bitcoin's eventual 21 million coin supply ceiling, there is no hard cap to the amount of Ether that can be created over time, but only 5 Ether per mined block are generated - right now, a new block is mined approximately every 14.4 seconds.

Ether is traded on several regulated exchanges in the United States, including Gemini, Bitfinex, and Coinbase GDAX. (Coinbase also recently announced integration of Ether on coinbase.com, the company's primary consumer wallet platform.)

Increased visibility of Ether seems to have attracted the attention of market participants far outside of the usual San Francisco Bitcoin start-up scene, as earlier this evening I was able to confirm a rumor that global financial services company UBS is nearing a formal announcement regarding its acceptance of Ethereum.

The Swiss bank plans to work with Ethereum, both as an experimental emerging asset class and as a rail for ferrying various kinds of financial data around the world.

A piece published by CryptoCoinsNews reporter Elliot Maras last year detailed a "settlement coin" being built by UBS, and separately, a project within the bank to build a bonds platform atop the Ethereum protocol.

"The smart bond platform enables the issuance of bonds through distributed ledger technology. The bonds would be 'smart contracts,' programmed to pay out coupons automatically," CCN reported at the time.

The forthcoming UBS announcement appears to be a more market-ready version of both concepts, reducing settlement times and improving redemption flow for a variety of financial products. Stephan Karpischek and Ian Cusden of UBS shared their "smart bonds" idea last year at DEVCON1.

I am aware of another major bank in the advanced stages of developing new tools atop Ethereum, but as I am unable to confirm with a source at the company, I will not be publishing the firm's name until it is reported elsewhere separately.

At time of publication, requests for comment sent to UBS AG's press office in New York were unreturned. UBS AG is a major global financial services company, incorporated in Zurich, Switzerland.

Disclosure: At time of publication, I hold some ether, bitcoin, U.S. dollars, and gold in my long term portfolio.