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Yes, Vanguard’s new CEO supported BlackRock’s bitcoin ETF launch

Vanguard has said it doesn’t believe in crypto’s investment case, and it doesn’t allow bitcoin ETFs to trade on its platform.

But the fund giant’s new CEO, Salim Ramji, led BlackRock’s ETF business as the company spurred an industry double-take with its bitcoin ETF filing last year. 

So something’s got to give, right? 

Maybe not soon, but ultimately yes, according to Ric Edelman, founder of the Digital Assets Council of Financial Professionals (DACFP).

Ramji was BlackRock ’s global head of iShares and index investing before leaving the world’s largest asset manager in January. He started his career leading the firm’s corporate strategy and moved on to become its head of US wealth advisory.

Vanguard said Tuesday that Ramji would succeed Tim Buckley as chief executive on July 8. The firm had revealed in February that Buckley was set to retire by the year’s end.  

Though Ramji left BlackRock the month that US spot bitcoin ETFs gained Securities and Exchange Commission clearance , he was of course involved in the lead-up.

Fast-forward four months, and BlackRock’s iShares Bitcoin Trust (IBIT) has so far led the category with $15.5 billion of net inflows . IBIT trails the segment’s largest fund — the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust ETF (GBTC) — by less than $1 billion in assets under management. 

Read more: Strong start, slowing demand: The first 4 months of US spot bitcoin ETFs        

In a July 2023 interview on Bloomberg TV, Ramji said the company was “incredibly excited” about blockchain technology given its ability to remove considerable “friction” across the financial ecosystem.

The then-BlackRock executive likened the planned bitcoin product to its physical gold ETF — the iShares Gold Trust (IAU) — launched in 2005.

“The gold is held in custody in a vault, which is remote from us, but it’s now easier to transact in gold using our gold ETFs,” he said at the time. “We’re applying that same philosophy to other new and emerging asset classes like bitcoin, just as we did to gold 20 years ago and just as we did to bonds 20 years ago.”

The bitcoin ETF bid was an effort to “help investors gain access to parts of the market that otherwise have been more difficult or really expensive or opaque for them to access otherwise,” Ramji added.   

For what it’s worth, Vanguard’s Tuesday news release does not mention IBIT or crypto.

A company spokesperson did not immediately return a request for further comment. 

While brokerage firms Fidelity and Charles Schwab, for example, give investors access to trade bitcoin ETFs, Vanguard does not. The company has called the investment case for cryptocurrencies “weak” — noting that most crypto assets “lack intrinsic economic value” and are highly volatile.

Read more: As spot bitcoin ETF volumes soar, Vanguard is blocking such trades

DACFP’s Edelman, who also founded Edelman Financial Services, said he believes Ramji will bring a more “market-focused approach” to Vanguard. 

After all, he noted, the company’s focus on being the cheapest doesn’t give it as much of an edge in an increasingly low-cost industry.

“Paternalistic views that prevent investors from owning what they want won’t foster growth either,” Edelman told Blockworks.

Bloomberg Intelligence analyst James Seyffart said in an X post that he doesn’t think the hire means Vanguard launches a bitcoin ETF in the near-term.

“But I think Salim could reverse Vanguard’s stance on not allowing their clients to buy spot bitcoin ETFs on their brokerage platform,” Seyffart added.

Bitcoin won’t be the first item on Salim’s agenda, Edelman noted.

“But eventually…Vanguard will indeed offer bitcoin ETFs,” he said. “From a purely business perspective, it’s foolish not to. And Salim is not foolish.”

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