As the digital currency bitcoin continues to make inroads into the financial world, more and more finance professionals, advisors, attorneys, and accountants are coming into contact with it. But there isn’t any kind of standardized base of knowledge for them to draw upon. That gave one man an idea.
On Tuesday, the Digital Currency Council, a consultancy and education center that aims to be a resource for legal, accountants, and finance professionals and the brainchild of David Berger, opened its doors in lower Manhattan. Essentially, the idea is to bring bitcoin’s proverbial three R’s to Wall Street. The group will offer certificate-level classes and courses designed to provide a broad understanding of digital currencies. ”We believe advisors, folks who are taking fees to give advice, need to be held to a higher standard of understanding,” Mr. Berger told MoneyBeat. “That’s really what we’re allowing them to do.”
Bitcoin is slowly and quietly starting to look less like a tool of cryptoanarchy and more like a relatively normal financial asset. Last week, the first derivatives exchange got approval from the CFTC. PayPal’s Braintree unit will start taking the currency. A recent research paper even concluded that despite its volatility, a small amount of bitcoin can benefit a diversified portfolio. There are two bitcoin exchange-traded funds in the works, one from Barry Silbert and the other from Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. Given all this, Mr. Berger believes the time has come for a formalized approach to bitcoin education.
Mr. Berger was previously Americas CEO of Campden Wealth, a research and resources firm aimed at high-net worth investors, and it was in that capacity that he saw how many advisors just weren’t up to speed on bitcoin. When he talked to advisors about bitcoin, most either shrugged their shoulders, pleaded ignorance, or were just plain skeptical. But he also saw that individual investors are increasingly looking to their advisors for information about bitcoin. He saw an opportunity there for somebody to provide standardized knowledge at a professional level.
The council’s program has been in beta testing, and already has 200 people taking courses. “There is definitely demand,” he said, “well beyond the confines of New York and Silicon Valley.”
The council received funding, for an undisclosed amount, from Mr. Silbert’s Bitcoin Opportunity Fund. Mr. Silbert, who is building both his bitcoin ETF and bitcoin exchange, said he’s getting “a lot of questions from the advisors, either because they’re curious or they have clients who are interested in bitcoin.” He said his firm has a “bitcoin 101″ email they hand out, but the idea of a more formalized program “resonated with me.”
This may be the first effort aimed at professionals, but it is not the first educational effort for cryptocurrencies. The University of Nicosia began a masters’ level program last year, including an open-enrollment online class, New York University is offering a digital-currencies class this year, to say nothing of the growing bitcoin communities at Stanford and MIT.