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It’s not just BlackRock — we ranked the finance world’s most exciting crypto projects

It’s not just BlackRock — we ranked the finance world’s most exciting crypto projects
BlackRock, led by Larry Fink, isn't the only big finance player piling into crypto projects.
  • BlackRock, Fidelity and other firms are piling into Bitcoin ETFs for the retail market.
  • But other firms have exciting projects in crypto on the horizon.
  • They include Enclave Markets, Six, Copper, Canton and Standard Chartered's Zodia
  • Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the most influential players.

With BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, finally throwing its weight behind Bitcoin, the gates to institutional involvement look to be opening.

But looking beyond the big guns like BlackRock and Fidelity, there is a wealth of innovation at smaller or more obscure firms.

We’ve all seen the big gestures: most notably the U-turn from BlackRock’s Larry Fink, who in 2017 called Bitcoin “an index of money laundering” but in July, he hailed it as a tool that could “revolutionise finance.”

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As the gulf between retail and institutional crypto activity finally narrows, who is bridging that gap best?

From prime brokerage houses to up-and-coming exchanges, new native networks to Wall Street stalwarts, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the most influential players.

Enclave Markets — Block crossing pioneer

Enclave claims to be the creator of the first fully encrypted exchange, or FEX, set up to combine the best bits of both centralised and decentralised finance.

The venture started with an institutional block-trading service for digital assets, Enclave Cross, that allowed players to take large positions without impacting market liquidity.

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This was followed in May 2023 by a spot trading platform for digital assets, connecting buyers and sellers through a central limit order book.

Unlike other centralised exchanges, Enclave doesn’t use internal market makers, nor does it operate proprietary trading or take positions against its customers.

Since the beginning of the year, Enclave Cross volumes have increased over 1,000% as the platform continues to scale.

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The firm uses New York-based accounting firm Marcum to conduct regular audits, to ensure that all funds within Enclave’s FEX are accounted for and not being misused.

David Wells, CEO of Enclave Markets, said: “With the digital asset industry moving further towards maturity, providing utility to professional and retail traders alike remains a key aspect of our core mission.”

Copper — Big player, brief wobble?

One of the biggest players on the list, Copper is a digital asset infrastructure provider that offers custody, trading and prime broking solutions, alongside its ClearLoop network and Walled Garden infrastructure, which cover around 96% of the global crypto market.

Founded in 2018 with buy-in from some crypto veterans and based in London, the firm became a crypto unicorn in 2022 with a Series C funding round led by Barclays Ventures and Tiger Global Management that valued the firm at around $2 billion.

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ClearLoop, the firm’s off-exchange trading and settlement network that mitigates counterparty risk while offering clients full coverage of digital asset exchanges, has seen strong growth with “significant increases in trading volumes and clients onboarding” since the end of 2022, according to the firm’s latest update.

However, in April, Copper announced a “strategic realignment” to focus on its custody and prime services solutions, streamlining its business and replacing much of its senior board, as well as making some redundancies.

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“Copper remains on course to be the best supplier of digital asset custody and prime services that meet the needs of institutional investors,” said CEO Dmitry Tokareve.

“But now marks the time to re-evaluate our business strategy and redouble our efforts on further growing the areas where we can build maximum success to transform existing financial infrastructure.”

MatrixPort – Singapore giant with European ambitions

MatrixPort is an all-in-one crypto services platform founded and funded by Chinese crypto billionaire Jihan Wu, the founder of Bitmain, one of the world’s largest computer chip companies for Bitcoin mining.

The venture is now one of Asia’s largest crypto platforms and in recent years has expanded into the European market.

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With a brokerage arm and a venture capital division, its affiliate exchange platform BIT Crypto Exchange is taking on Binance in Europe, with its July 2023 registration in Lithuania as a Virtual Asset Services Provider — meaning it now has regulatory clearance to offer crypto exchange and wallet services.

The firm opened a Zurich office in 2019 with plans to apply for a Swiss banking license, while its venture capital division has been spreading the love, recently leading an angel funding round for OrBit, an institutional crypto liquidity provider for options and structured products.

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In May 2023, MatrixPort announced a flagship partnership with Copper to integrate with ClearLoop. The collaboration is expected to significantly enhance Matrixport’s prime brokerage offering.

Six Digital Exchange — Integrating assets

The world’s first fully regulated digital exchange and central securities depositary, SDX is the digital assets arm of SIX Swiss Exchange, Europe’s third-largest stock exchange.

Led by CEO David Newns, the exchange is leveraging Switzerland’s world-leading crypto framework, and has the ambition of creating a twin-railed service integrating assets across both the digital and traditional exchanges.

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In November it came one step closer to this goal, working with UBS to launch the world’s first native digital bond with intended dual listing and trading on SIX Digital Exchange and SIX Swiss Exchange.

“The dual-listed digital bond in effect establishes a migration path for the market to move from issuing traditional securities to issuing natively digital securities on fully regulated blockchain based financial markets infrastructure,” said Newns.

Canton Network — Bringing blockchain to the real world

Underpinned by technology from global crypto giant Digital Asset, and unlike many others on this lit, Canton isn’t an exchange or a brokerage — instead, it claims to be the world’s first privacy-enabled open blockchain network, designed for institutional assets and built to “unlock the potential of synchronized financial markets.”

A “network of networks,” as it calls it, Canton aims to challenge the limitations of current smart contracts.

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For example, it can do so by combining a digital bond and a digital payment into a single transaction.

It also connects current blockchain offerings, such as Deutsche Borse’s D7 post-trade platform and Goldman Sachs’ GS DAP platform, while still retaining privacy and permissioning.

Launched in May with over 30 financial services participants (including ASX, BNP Paribas, Broadridge, Capgemini, Cboe Global Markets, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, S&P Global, among others), the network marks a growing momentum towards the tokenisation of ‘real world’ assets.

DAR — Cleaning up market data

With market data becoming the new gold in conventional markets, it has received less attention in the DeFi space – but Digital Asset Research aims to change all that.

The baby of New York-based tech giant Digital Asset, DAR was founded in 2017 to provide institutional-grade crypto research and data.

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It uses market structure analysis and research to provide an accurate and authoritative price for digital assets, using metrics including intraday and close pricing, asset indicators, exchange statistics, and price discovery analysis.

It offers pricing, benchmarks and volume data, along with due diligence and crypto exchange vetting, reference data and taxonomies, blockchain and crypto yield data, and is used by clients including Bloomberg, Refinitiv and Eurex. In April, DAR also teamed up with crypto indices provider MarketVector to power its index methodologies.

Other names to watch

Of course, no list of new players can be comprehensive.

Lending and credit markets in the digital asset space are becoming more mature since the failure of Three Arrows Capital, FTX, and Genesis in 2022.

Institutional adoption is also gathering momentum across the spectrum: from Nomura’s Laser Digital making strategic investments — such as into new clearing house Cleartoken — or Standard Chartered’s backing of the digital asset custodian Zodia Custody, while blockchain platforms such as GS DAP are also gaining profile.

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We’re also seeing new tie-ups with some of the most established players in fintech and payments: such as the recent announcement by PayPal regarding its partnership with Paxos, the leading New York regulated stablecoin, to develop PYUSD, a new stablecoin to support online payments.

And the Digital Dollar Project is working hard on the development of a US central bank digital currency that could have a very real future.

Lauren McAughtry is a freelance journalist covering markets and finance in London.